Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Happy New Year from Sweden!

How can one celebrate New Year in Sweden without ABBA?
The song "Happy New Year" is featured on the group's 1980 album Super Trouper, but the song originally had the much more creative working title "Daddy Don't Get Drunk on Christmas Day". I wonder why they dropped that name.
Did I mention that every woman with Swedish ancestors can sing like Agnetha Fältskog? It's because of some gene mutation, according to a magazine I read once.

Well. Soon we enter an entirely new decade of films, which Tim Burton starts off in a (hopefully) spectacular manner with Alice in Wonderland (Swedish premiere March 12th). No one can stop me - I will see it at the theater! I mean, Stephen Fry is the friggin' Cheshire Cat.

Happy New Year everyone!

Mia Wasikowska as Alice.

Helena Bonham Carter as The Red Queen.

Johnny Depp as The Mad Hatter.

Anne Hathaway as The White Queen.

American Movie (1999)

American Movie: The Making of Northwestern
Director: Chris Smith
USA 1999
107 min
Starring: Mark BorchardtMike SchankTom Schimmels, Monica Borchardt, Alex Borchardt, Chris Borchardt and "Uncle" Bill Borchardt, among others.

A much loved documentary about the struggle of film making.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Kagemusha (1980)

Kagemusha aka The Shadow Warrior
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Japan 1980
180 min
Starring: Tatsuya Nakadai, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Kenichi Hagiwara, Jinpachi NezuHideji Ôtaki, Daisuke Ryû, Masayuki Yui and Takashi Shimura, among others.

Time to take on some of Kurosawa's famous samurai movies, and Kagemusha will be the first to enter this blog.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Ikiru - To Live (1952)

Director: Akira Kurosawa
Japan 1952
143 min
Starring: Takashi Shimura, Shinichi Himori, Miki Odagiri, Yûnosuke Itô, Haruo Tanaka and Minoru Chiaki, among others.

I hope everyone had a great Christmas. I now feel ready to move on with my regular blogging, and what could be better than the following:
A tremendously beautiful life and death drama about a regular middle aged man who suddenly realizes he has only months left to live due to terminal cancer.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Baby, is it cold outside?

Panorama photo of my snowy view from the balcony. Click to enlarge.

Oh yes, it's friggin' ice cold. But that's not what I was referring to in the title.

I almost had my dreams of a perfect Christmas crushed by people on the Internet. Why? Because they are probably right. But I don't care. I don't! (Okay, I do. But I will push those feelings away into a deep, dark corner of my mind where it will never reach the surface ever again.)

The problem is this. I have an absolute favorite Christmas song: "Baby, It's Cold Outside". I just realized that it's two days left before Christmas (in Sweden we celebrate on Christmas Eve, the 24th), and I still haven't listened to a single Christmas song. Off to YouTube to find my favorite of them all.

Yes, I was a 100% sure that it was Bing Crosby and Doris Day that sang that song. And that made me happy, and I built my love for Bing around that performance. And then some people say that it in actuality is NOT Crosby and Day, but instead Margaret Whiting and Johnny Mercer. "Yeah, right. Suckers." was my initial reaction. But then those names popped up everywhere, followed by "most people think that it's Bing Crosby and Doris Day, but..."
I did NOT like that. I had to research to save myself.

Wikipedia mentions a 1949 recording of the song with Whiting and Mercer, and a hell of a lot of other artists - but not a word about a Crosby/Day collaboration. My heart started beating fast, and I saw how my dear, wonderful Christmas was starting to fall apart.

Then I just bet everything on one card, namely Google Fight. The result of the match:

Ha! Take that, unbelievers!
Okay, I know that most people thing they know something and then act as if it's the only right answer. But I don't care - this time I will go with the flow like a dead fish and stand by my claim that it is indeed Bing Crosby and Doris Day that sing that wonderful song together. History has been altered before, and I'm doing it now.

If the Commies could change history, so can I!

I just pieced by shattered Christmas together again.

According to every American jolly happy-go-lucky cliché Christmas film ever made, Christmas is all about loving, caring, understanding and forgiving. Therefore I will officially withdraw my Doris Day allergy and revise it into acceptance and mild adoration. I really could not stand her before (accept for the lovely song briefly mentioned in this post), but I have changed my mind this very day. A quite ordinary, but very entertaining, 1960's sex comedy about spies called The Glass Bottom Boat (1966) aired on TCM today. I watched it, laughed and actually liked Doris Day's ordinary looks, self distance and sense of humor.
In about 30 years or so I will probably be able to accept the combination of Doris Day and Rock Hudson. Hu-ha.

Publicity still for The Glass Bottom Boat.

Now, let's listen to the best of the best Christmas songs, sung by Bing Crosby and Doris Day. I wish you all, lovely readers, a Merry Christmas.


Baby It's Cold Outside Lyrics


Lolita and the World of Bad Photoshopping
wish you all a Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Vampira (1922-2008)

Today is the legendary ghoulish B-actress Vampira's birthday, and in January it is two years since she passed away. Since I found some cool pictures of her, I thought I might as well right a little something too.

Vampira was actually born in my neighbor country Finland (my maternal grandfather's home country) December 21st, 1922. Her uncle (or so she claims) was famous athlete Paavo Nurmi, one of "The Flying Finns", and probably made a more respectable mark in history than his supposed niece.
She was named Maila Elizabeth Syrjäniemi (later changed to easier-to-pronounce Nurmi), and at the age of two she moved to America with her family, namely Ashtabula, Oregon, the largest Finnish community in the state.

Blonde Maila Nurmi as a pin-up girl.

At the age of 17 Maila Nurmi arrived in Los Angeles, where she soon found work as a pin-up model for fames Peruvian Playboy painter Alberto Vargas. Incredibly enough, a director named Howard Hawkes noticed the lovely blonde Maila and planned to make a new Lauren Bacall out of her. He cast her in a planned film adaption of the Russian novel "Dreadful Hollow", but the project was out on hold for so many times that Maila finally lost patience and washed her hands of the whole business.

The Vampira we are more familiar with.

It was at a masquerade ball that Maila once again was discovered, this time introducing the Vampira persona. She had based her costume on a character in The New Yorker's cartoon by Charles "Chas" Addams, namely Morticia Addams of the macabre Addams Family. It was a television producer who noticed the dark beauty, now with raven dyed hair, long fingernails and a wasp waist. Soon Vampira had a contract hosting the Channel 7 midnight broadcast "The Vampira Show". With that trump card the television company easily succeeded in their quest to make more people stay up at night watching bad horror flicks.

The show was popular at least for one season (1954-55), but the audience soon tired of the badly written double entendres and the melodramatic show hostess. The next thing was an appearance in the camp classic Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959), about which she had to say:

"At the time, I thought it was horrible. I knew immediately I'd be committing professional suicide, but I thought `what choice do I have?' Somehow, I seemed to be dead already. I love glamour and physical beauty. I've always been fascinated by beautiful men on the screen: Tyrone Power, Robert Walker, with soft-focus filters and velvet voices. That's what Ed Wood was like. Beautiful dreamy eyes and long, sweeping lashes just beautiful. He didn't make a very pretty lady [in Glen or Glenda], but he made an awfully pretty man."

The rest is history. Through the years Vampira has however become notorious for modifying her true relationships with famous Hollywood people. For one thing, she claimed to be on very friendly terms with James Dean. While the fact that they met seems to be the truth, there is some doubt about her claims of a deep understanding between the two. The American actress and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper had this to say in her 1962 memoir in a chapter about Dean:

"We discussed the thin-cheeked actress who calls herself Vampira on television (and cashed in, after Jimmy died, on the publicity she got from knowing him and claimed she could talk to him 'through the veil'). He said: 'I had studied The Golden Bough and the Marquis de Sade, and I was interested in finding out if this girl was obsessed by a satanic force. She knew absolutely nothing. I found her void of any true interest except her Vampira make-up. She has no absolute.' "

She was however acquainted with both Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe, and did briefly date Orson Welles, whom she said was the only man she ever traveled to other cities to be with.

In later years Vampira made a living installing linoleum flooring. She seemed to take it well, considering she said the following to the Los Angeles Times in an interview:

 "And if things are slow in linoleum, I can also do carpentry, make drapes or refinish furniture"

She later opened an antiques boutique on Melrose Avenue called Vampira's Attic, where she made items for several celebrities including Grace Slick, singer in Jefferson Airplane.

Vampira died in Los Angeles at the age of 85 from natural causes, Januray 10th, 2008.

Maybe body modification is something I should try out?

I can't believe this...

Quite the fan photo!

My favorite picture of the lot:
Vampira does her best to scare little children.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

My top 20 favorite actresses

It seems like some of my readers wanted more after my Top 20 Favorite Actors post - and what can I do but obey? As usual I had to leave out some favorites after all (why can't they all fit in??), like Grace Kelly and Mae West. Well well. Here they are: My top 20 favorite actresses (in alphabetical order, of course):

Favorite role: Slim Browning in To Have and Have Not (1944)

Favorite role: Alicia Huberman in Notorious (1946)

Favorite role: B. Maloney in Night Nurse (1931)

Favorite role: Betty Lou Spence in It (1927)

Favorite role: Lulu in Pandora's Box (1929)

Favorite role: Catherine Sloper in The Heiress (1949)

Favorite role: Shanghai Lily in Shanghai Express (1932)

Favorite role: Anna Christie in Anna Christie (1930)

Favorite role: Rachel Cooper in The Night of the Hunter (1955)

Favorite role: Nicole in How to Steal a Million (1966)

Favorite role: Tracy Lord in The Philadelphia Story (1940)

Favorite role: Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Names Desire (1951)

Favorite role: Maria Tura in To Be or Not to Be (1942)

Favorite role: Milly Stephenson in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

Favorite role: Sugar Kane Kowalczyk in Some Like It Hot (1959)

Favorite role: Catherine in Jules and Jim (1962)

Favorite role: Mary Carlton / Mary Marlow in Secrets (1933)

Favorite role: Lily Powers in Baby Face (1933)

Favorite role: Norma Desmond in Sunset Blvd. (1950)

Favorite role: Angie Rossini in Love with the Proper Stranger (1963)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

High and Low (1963) - Closure

Spanish film poster. (transl. "The Hell of Hatred")

A couple of days ago I wrote about my frustration about unsynchronized subtitles to the second half of this wonderful Akira Kurosawa film [post], and now I've finally managed to see all of it. And it got even better. Jesus Christ, this is one hell of a cool film! A new favorite of mine, and obviously the best of the Kurosawa films I've seen this far.

Don't the detective standing up look a lot like Tor Johnson

The famous color sequence. Don't get a copy without it -
you'll miss an important point in the plot.

Looking closer at Japanese cinema, and foreign films over all, is such a total opposite experience from the Hollywood films of the same era. Perhaps the difference lies in the restraints of Hollywood's film making, or perhaps in the different cultures in different parts of the world - whatever the reason, watching foreign films works as a real eye opener and the experience is satisfying in so many ways.

Take High and Low for an example. It's a really cool film, but not in the hard-boiled Hollywood way. The characters aren't one-dimensional, but the heroes are more like anti-heroes. And even though I would describe this film as a crime drama, the genre is difficult to determine. There is a lovely subtle humor slipping tough the tough facade regularly, scenes without dialogue supersede noisy nightclub scenes with jazz versions of O Sole Mio, and there is even shockingly frightening scenes in a dark alley full of drug addicts.
This film has it all, and the mix of totally opposite genre types is more than successful. It is grand.

And the actors? God Almighty, they are heavy. Speaking of the three main characters Gondo (Toshirô Mifune), Detective Tokura (Tatsuya Nakadai) and Ginjirô Takeushi (Tsutomu Yamakazi), they are all so genuine and realistic, yet dramatic. Just like the film itself manages to balance different styles, so do the actors manage to balance drama and realism. And yes, I am still violently in love with Tatsuya Nakadai.

With risk of repeating myself for the seventyeleventh time: this film is awesome. Just awesome. So awesome that I had to pause it several times to avoid exploding of excitement. I also had to pause it an additional time to phone my brother who like Kurosawa.

"Rubashov! (My nickname for him.) I'm watching this AWESOME movie! You just have to see it! A crime film! Kurosawa! Jazz music! And they are all so cool! Not Hollywood cool, but cool! Anti-hero cool! It's AWESOME!"
"Ehrm... I'm in the middle of a dinner with my girlfriend's parents now... but sure, I'll watch it. If I have the time."
"You have to! It's AWESOME!"


So there you have it. Now I think I have to go out on the balcony and cool off after this fantastic experience. There will definitively be more Kurosawa on this blog, that's for sure.

What IS her wearing? Japanese undercover cops are weird.

I found a trailer on YouTube for the film. As usual, the trailer is quite misleading and makes the film look like some Dirty Harry wannabe. But anyhow, it gives you some insight in what the film looks like: