Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Edna May Oliver: No Flibberty-Gibbet

 Edna as lady Catherine de Bourgh

Just because an actor is known as a "character actor" doesn't mean they can't make a picture worth seeing in and of themselves. They've been known to literally "steal the show" once or twice . I think the first time I ever noticed my favorite scene stealer  Edna May Oliver when I watched the excellent 1940 version of Pride and Prejudice where she played (with much humor and aplomb) the indomitable Lady Catherine De Bourgh. As she played most of her parts, she played what might have been a dreary snobbish upper class twit with a twinkle in her eye, and great good sense. It takes such accomplishment, not to mention superb timing,  to translate to the audience that stern attitude that isn't really all that stern at all, and that she looked like an old maid school marm with such a knowing eye makes her all the more likeable to watch.

Edna May Oliver, a descendant of John Quincy Adams, was born Edna May Nutter  in Massachusetts in 1883. Traditional school life was clearly not for her as she began establishing her characteristically independent nature early on by quitting school and heading to the stage. That she did continue to study voice and piano should be no surprise though and she actually had a fine singing voice (which she generally declined to use in film or on stage due to her self described "horse face" which she declared was made for comedy). She had some moderate success on Broadway before heading to film work  where she played many comedic roles, but excelled in dramatic ones as well which she charmingly played with the droll Edna May ironic touch.

Edna May Oliver as Aunt Betsey Trotwood with Mr Dick and David

Even though you can find her frequently on TCM in lighter than air mad cap comedies (such as the lively "We're Rich Again" which aired recently) as well as  serialized sleuth Hiledegarde Withers  I prefer her unique touch in more "dramatic roles". She was wonderful as the "boy hating",though softhearted, Aunt Betsey Trotwood in the marvelous 1935  MGM edition of David Copperfield . No one could have been more irascibly sensible and yet loving as Aunt Betsey who not only took David in, but also harbored the decidedly daffy Mr Dick. It is my opinion that Edna May played that part with more humor, fire, and kindness than anyone else could have. Her countenance and voice commanded respect, while the kindness in her eyes provided hope. In another truly dramatic role her versatility is showcased in Ann Vickers in which she played the practical sophisticate Dr Malvina Wormser who was friend and confident to an out of wedlock pregnant  Irene Dunn as Ann. But my favorite Edna May Oliver movie is A Tale of Two Cities in which she played the ever protective and fierce Miss Pross who was watchdog, nurse, and friend of Miss Lucy Manette. Starchy would be a good word to describe her in this role as she disapproves of almost everyone and everything she feels is beneath her beloved charge . Even Ronald Colman's Sydney Carton can't get her to unstiffen with his teasing and far too familiar nickname "Prossy". Her true colors and loyalty come forth as she litterally fights to  save Lucy and her family from the despicably delicious Madame De Farge. That fight scene turns Miss Pross from a mere prude to a true heroine.

 Edna May Oliver as the ferocious Miss Pross

All of the pictures I have referenced and so many more are worth your time. The term "character" actor means so many things to so many people, but to me is usually means turning what could be a small role into something that not only furthers the story significantly but also allows something special to shine through and make that performance  memorable. Don't ever forget to read the credits to see those whose names are farther down than the "stars" of the picture. You will find yourself amazed by the scope and talent of these actors who can exhibit such extraordinary versatility  as they go from demanding role to demanding role often portraying completely different personae in each picture. They are so many of them unsung celluloid  heroes.

Edna May Oliver

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Not Cat, Not Movies, Eradication

I've been debating for three weeks whether or not to address a recent event in my life on my blog. Since it turns out that this is something I can do nothing about, I decided to do what I could about it, and write.

I have two separate lives, each one is precious to me. There is my "real" life at home and work with my husband, family ,pets, and friends.  I have a second life as well,  which it would seem is just as real as my first one, that's my "on line" life. I never realized before how much this virtual life meant to me until it was grossly disrupted, by rejection. The debate about whether or not it should mean anything much to me at all will have to wait.

I've been "blocked" on twitter by someone I admire who was not only someone I followed, but who also followed me as well. Now in the recent past I was also blocked, by someone with mega fame, a former Tour de France winner who I will not name, and whose "blockage" was sought and delighted in, a badge of honor
This latest episode however came as a complete shock and surprise. And what is no less surprising is how damned much it hurts! (may I add an addendum here by saying I inadvertently  unfollowed several people on twitter last night all of whom contacted me immediately expressing their hurt, so I guess I'm not overreacting as much as I had supposed) I have processed this event within myself, with friends, with anyone who would listen and I am coming up empty on causality. I have no idea what I did (or didn't do). Now, I admit that I can be enthusiastic, but I was minding my manners out of sheer admiration  and being ever so polite. I also admit I can be slightly obsessive, but I kept my tweets to a couple a week, and for those of you who know and love me you know that is showing no small amount of restraint. I can be curious as well but never ever would I "stalk" someone, even in the on line world. No, I can come up with nothing.
This essentially  begs the question, why should rejection on twitter from someone you don't know mean so much? I'm not too sure...but I feel like Mary Reilly right now.

I suppose like most people I vacillate between thinking I AM all that, and thinking I am nothing of the kind. So I wander between how dare he block me, to why in God's name who anyone follow me in the first place? Ah, there's the nugget I've been digging for. Over the past three weeks I have wondered, why does the one "no" outweigh all of the "yeses"? Why is it that as humans we only tend to hear what is negative about us rather than what we are praised for? Is it that the negativity, the rejections, confirm what we really think about ourselves? That we are only worthy of being censured, and ostracized? If so this shines a beam on a truly sad aspect of human nature. And unfortunately I have come up with no answers, perhaps time will allow me to gain some wisdom and insight from this event. (And apparently I am not the only person out there scratching her/his head)

What small bits of clarity I have realized  however are these (and my wisdom only extends as far as twitter, I can't help you much with the "real" world)

Would an "unfollow" do as well as a block? (unless of course someone is stalking you, or being obscene) I mean seriously do you need to use the nuclear option when batting a mosquito? Most people are upset enough at an unfollow and will generally get the hint.

If someone tweeted something you found obnoxious, but was not directed at you, can you ignore it? You can do this easily by unfollowing or  "muting" their tweets. This way they won't show up in your timeline, and you won't make them feel lower than dust by blocking them.

On twitter sometimes it's hard to know who is talking to you (especially if like me they don't give their real names) Don't block someone because you think they might be someone else you may have had issues with. Look at their profile, you can tell a new "stalking" type account from a well established genuine one.

And finally, consider how you might feel if someone you admired blocked you. I can assure you that even in the ethereally anonymous world of twitter it feels really awful.

I'm happy to say I'm not angry at this person, and if  forgiveness is appropriate and mine to bestow I've done that. I am merely befuddled and confused, and I think I am correct in thinking that if this person knew how much angst his actions have caused me (however unjustified) he would feel badly.  I suppose that I won't ever know what happened and that's fine. Maybe in the end I don't want to hear something along the lines of, "well I just didn't like her". Knowing that might actually hurt more than being blocked, and at this point who needs that?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Forgotten Man, Still Forgotten?

If you've never seen the delightfully paradoxical "Gold Diggers of 1933", a "pre-code" gem already shown in Turner Classic Movie's 31 Days of Oscar, you need to be sure to watch the next time it's on. It's highly entertaining and is for the most part escapist fluff about a group of Broadway showgirls trying to make it through the depression without compromising their virtue, well not too much anyway.

An elaborate scene from Gold Diggers of 1933

The movie uses the time honored concept of showing a production within a production, and involves the tribulations of  Broadway show producer Barney Hopkins (Ned Sparks) who is in desperate need of an "angel" to back his idea for a musical about the Depression. The song writing boyfriend (Dick Powell) of one of his usual cast members (Ruby Keeler) just happens to be the wealthy scion of a conservative Back Bay family who has strayed to "The Great White Way" to seek personal fulfillment as a composer. When Barney's splendid idea for a show that highlights the plight of the "forgotten man" loses its backer, Brad Roberts (a.k.a. Robert Treat Bradford) comes through with the cash which puts into motion hilarity, confusion, and finally love for more than a few of the cast members. (for a detailed look at cast, crew, and plot go to the excellent The Gold Diggers Wiki )

Gloriously marching off to war!

 What amazed me so much the first time I saw the film though was the complete about face its tone and meaning take during the stunning last number, "Remember My Forgotten Man". While 7/8 of the movie is highly entertaining  but essentially lighter than air 1930s musical nonsense, the last few scenes are devastating. Busby Berkeley, who choreographed and staged the film, was inspired by the Bonus Army March of 1932 and made use of what he had seen and felt as the inspiration for the "Remember my Forgotten Man" number. So what was essentially a boy-meets-girl-going-through-the-usual-tribulations movie, becomes a damning musical indictment  on the state of WWI veterans during the Depression.

The glamour of battle disappears

When I last saw the film, I got to wondering exactly how far we've come in honoring our "forgotten men",service people returining from Afghanistan . When we watch classic film I think we are sometimes amused by their datedness. (it's actually a big part of their charm) The quaint nature of classic films may be why in some ways we may pat ourselves on the back for just how far we've come. But how far have we come when it comes to caring for and genuinely honoring our vets? I think that the small improvements in job offerings and medical benefits over the past few years have certainly helped, but when I see the statistics of suicide and  mental illness, augmented by  low income fueled by rising veteran unemployment  I fear we have our own generation of "forgotten men". Celebrating returning service people when they come back from war is highly deserved and important, that recognition is such a turnaround from the way in which our returning Viet Nam vets were treated, but after the local news crews leave and all of the hoopla has ended how much better off are some of these men and women than the "forgotten men" of the post WWI era, or any previous era? We know so much more now and have so many more resources at our disposal than did the people of the 1930s that we shouldn't ever have to ponder this topic, yet sometimes it seems we are all too willing to let those who have served fall between the cracks once service to their country has ended.

The ultimate reality of war

To be sure the enormity and import of this subject might be better served in a venue other than a movie blogathon as noble a project as this is. (by the way,  thanks to my host Aurora, @citizenscreen)   I suppose my point is that, at the very least, a daffy musical from the early 1930s got me looking into and recognizing  a subject we should all care deeply about. In essence this is just one more example of the power of film. So, see it if you haven't and watch it again if you have. Enjoy the light-hearted snappy banter and terrific score, and  then  feel the utter despair of the "forgotten man".

The final scene staged expansively by Busby Berkeley