There’s no doubt that the world is not in the best shape it could be. The fact that its salvation lies with the top 0.5% people in the world (or even less, I made that percentage up) who make up the oil industry and other minor and major industries that help ‘make our lives easier’ while draining our bank account doesn’t make the prognosis any more optimistic. And yet. And yet, today I found myself protesting again with XR. We went through the motions, stamped our feet, waved the flags and banners, shouted out chants passionately, as if we were making a difference. We weren’t. We got called names. People came at us trying to tear our canvas banners from our hands, angry that we were stopping the traffic. People were trying to go about their business as if nothing was changing. Well, nothing is changing because we are only disrupting normal people’s lives. Everyday people, who have worries and concerns, possibly rushing to a hospital to see a dying grandmother. None of the fat cats, the big corporate magnates running the world were there among the people whose lives we disrupted today. I knew our protest was in vain even when I was chanting the passionate slogans about the environment. It was and still is a cause I solemnly believe in, but there’s nobody to listen. Still, it was nice to be part of a community of people who can create the illusion of making a difference.
We aren’t making a difference, but at least we’re tricking ourselves into thinking we are. What else is there to do? Sit around and wait to die? Wait for the permafrost to melt? Take action. I’ve personally reduced my carbon footprint as much as I could. I’ve almost gone vegan, I don’t have children (why should I want to bring children into this world?), I don’t drive, I don’t use plastic unless I have no choice. I know one or two people who have done the same and who know one or two people in their turn, and so on.
We impose all these things on ourselves because we feel shamed into it. We are shown pictures of birds, whales and other creatures dead, with their stomachs full of plastic. The oceans are full of plastic, the corals are dying, the animals are dying. We have a conscience. We know what needs to change and we are starting with the one in the mirror. But when there is no balance of power, when the 70% of the world’s global gas emission comes from only 100 big fat oil companies, it makes you feel quite small and your effort quite insignificant. Yes, Greta Thurnberg is to be commended for her will and her resilience. She’s a very brave kid and she knows the monster we are dealing with. But the monster has many heads and only $ in its eyes and in its pockets. How do we stop feeding it and still live a normal life. The world’s brightest minds have found solutions, I’m told, but I’m also told they’re not profitable. Why give the world something for free when you can charge them?
I am so angry. I am angry at my inability to make peace with a world that is burning, a world that has stopped caring and is wallowing in apathy. And what do I do? Do I abandon it all and say carpe diem, every man for himself? Why not, it’s the end of the world, life be damned! Do it while you can! Treat yourself, you deserve it! It’s Mad Max Revisited, with bonus scenes.
Don’t believe in the fight, it’s doomed from the start. It’s doomed from the start not because there are only a few of us. There are millions of us around the world crying alongside Australia, weeping for the Amazon. But what good are our cries for, when the powers that be, the powers that can change everything won’t, because there’s no profit in it. There’s profit in keeping people feeling unhappy, anxious, angry and wishing they could do something to take the edge off. Don’t worry about what you can’t change, here’s a 20% discount at Asos! Treat yourself!
The fight is doomed from the start because the world’s richest 22 people are richer than the whole of the African continent, according to a fresh article doing the rounds on social media today. Do we believe it? Does it matter if it was 22 or 100? The fact is: the world is in the hands of the big corporations who have already pillaged this earth dry. We need a mass revolution. We live on borrowed time. It’s 100 seconds to midnight.
Much like a glam rock star from the 70s, Hollywood is, if not dead, almost at death’s door, constantly churning out mediocre remakes of old films or relying on almost stale franchises.
The glorious days of Hollywood are now but a tale to be told. It is a tale of audacious beautiful women who make their own way in life. It is a tale of strong, bold, quick tempered men with questionable morals, bending the rules but having fun doing so. And they all enthral us with their magnetic screen personas: James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Barbara Stanwyck, Frederic March, Mae West and so many more.
The Pre-Code era of Hollywood holds the key to what makes cinema such an entertaining form of art. It was original, yet relatable, it offered escapism through its almost attainable glamour. All of the screen stars were gods and goddesses with human back stories, inviting the post October ’29 regular Joe to dare to dream.
Continuing in the Roaring Twenties fashion, the flapper girl gave way to the emancipated woman, who wasn’t afraid to break societal boundaries and be free in love and in life. The Pre-Code heroes and heroines are deeply flawed humans, but what they don’t lack in is zest for life. The passion showed on screen was so fierce that even today, both film lovers and history lovers look at the Pre-Code age of Hollywood as a well-documented study of man, a history lesson we can all learn from, especially our contemporary Hollywood studio executives.
The glamour on screen was equalled by a lot of drama off screen. The great studio system, most notably MGM, has a lot to answer for. They’ve established and run Hollywood like a star making machine. In exchange for fame, our beloved movie stars had to dispose of their own identity and be fitted with a new one, much like a see-through cocktail dress.
Perhaps this is where our fascination with movie stars comes from, especially those moving further and further away from our contemporary lifestyle, becoming effigies as well preserved and valued as museum pieces.
If you don’t know who William Wyler is, then cinema isn’t your passion. He is an artist, a captivating storyteller and such a good example against the auteur theory that I’m sure even Godard can agree with.
But I won’t attempt to delve deeper into Wyler’s career. That is too great a task, which will require years of research and perhaps the subject of a dissertation or two. I will only zoom in on one film directed by this master at work - The Desperate Hours, a film which caused stirrings of memories familiar and yet never experienced.
The Desperate Hours is the only film pairing, or setting against each other, two Hollywood heavy weights: Frederic March and Humphrey Bogart. And the sparks are for the ages. For those not in the know, Frederic March was a Broadway star as well as a matinee idol, who already had an Oscar (for Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)) in the bag by the time Humphrey Bogart was being pushed around and tried on for size on the Warner Brothers’ lot. But more on that on a later post. I feel Humphrey Bogart needs little introduction, other than to say that his short screen career (20 years) was perhaps richer, enviable and more intense than that of many of his peers.
In 1955 they were both veterans of the screen, wiser, wrinklier and more confident. And that’s where the charm of the whole picture lies. I use the term picture, because it has all the feels and depths of an old medium, rich in style, sentiment as well as action and plenty of suspense. I also always read the word ‘picture’ in Norma Desmond’s voice. And this one is not a small one either! It’s got faces, alright. The handsome, well-aged faces of March and Bogart shine dark and full of passion, anger, heroism and most of all humanity.
Frederic March plays the head of the Hilliard household, living a tranquil life in the suburbs until Bogart’s Glenn Griffin, an escaped convict, chooses his home as a temporary hideaway from the police, taking him, his wife and two children hostages. Griffin operates with his younger brother and another escaped convict, although the latter is merely a stereotype and only used to advance the plot. The main battle is between the Hilliards and the Griffins and is mostly a battle of wits and feelings. From the beginning the younger Griffin is having second thoughts about the life of crime his brother has led him on, when he expresses regret for not being able to have a family and a house in the suburbs like the Hilliards. One of the most memorable quotes from the film comes from the younger Griffin: “Yeah, you taught me everything. Except how to live in a house like this.”
Despite suffering from a rather predictable plot, the film is aided by astonishing close ups of both Bogart and March, impeccably edited and combined with astonishing ensemble compositions. Wyler seems to understand the character in both their faces, accumulated over the years. And he lets them both shine with the weariness of the passing years. Wyler’s collaboration with cinematographer extraordinaire Lee Garmes brings out the best in both – a film noir of both subtle and sublime beauty, equalled only by a superb and insidious darkness.
The Desperate Hours is a film noir which somehow transcends the genre, becoming as much a gangster film as a family melodrama, with some truly suspenseful moments added in for good measure, of which even Hitchcock might be proud.
One can easily forget that Miss Shelley Winters had once played, albeit briefly, the Hollywood youth game. She began her career with a vivacious and appealing vulgarity, playing fun loving secondary, yet memorable characters. A most notable mention is A Double Life (1947), directed by George Cukor, which can be credited to have helped launch Shelley’s career.
Despite being seemingly typecast early in her career, limited to playing secondary characters whose destinies were to be killed off in the second act, Shelley Winters soon understood the rules of the game in the biggest star factory in the world – Hollywood. Just like her old friend, Marilyn would say: “Hollywood is a place where they'll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul.” Winters was not ready to sell, or event rent out her soul.
Therefore, if swimming against the current would get her noticed, Shelley was determined to take “swimming lessons”. Which she did, at the famous Actors Studio, in New York, alongside Monroe, James Dean and Montgomery Clift. Performing was in her blood. Shelley Winters was keen on a long career that would allow her to keep performing. Thus, she would have to pursue the more challenging roles and mould new Hollywood stereotypes, carve her own niche rather than try to fit in with any of the old and outdated ones.
Starting with the quiet-as-a-mouse blend-in-with-the-scenery character of Alice Tripp in A Place in the Sun, Winters grew from raw blonde sexpot to more well-rounded, flawed but deeply human characters. They still remained sometimes raw, sometimes bitter, but always relatable and always mesmerising to watch.
From then on, peer accolades started pouring in and the most coveted Oscar statuette was soon hers for the taking, for the great work in The Diary of Anne Frank (1959). The quality of her roles didn't deteriorate over the following decade, or the one after that. Or quite possibly, all her roles gained the "Winters" quality once the cameras started rolling. She was wonderfully vivacious, albeit slightly neurotic as Charlotte Haze in Lolita; she was "in great condition", albeit slightly naughty in Alfie (1966).
With her second Oscar win in 1972, for The Poseidon Adventure, her legacy as a great character actress was well established by now. Shelley Winters proved to the world and the entire film industry that she was more than a ditzy blonde and more than just a matronly figure too, paving the way for future versatile actresses to follow suit, such as Miriam Margolyes, Samantha Morton, Toni Collette, Viola Davis and Sally Hawkins.