film, not a book

Not a Book: Singin’ in the Rain

I have series of films that I always watch at this time of year, so I thought I’d feature them here too. And as I kicked off my Christmas by watching this last weekend, we’re starting with the immortal classic: Singin’ in the Rain.

In case you’ve never watched it, it’s the story of a Hollywood leading man as the movie business transforms from silent films to talkies. Don Lockwood is an ex-Vaudeville song and dance man who got his start as a stunt man who then got paired up with a glamorous leading leafy, Lena Lamont. Lockwood and Lamont have been a marquee double act ever since. The problem is that Don can’t stand Lena – and now the bigger problem is that Lena’s voice is… not suitable for the talkies. Early in the film Don meets Cathy Seldon, a hopeful actress with a great singing voice, searching for her big break. And it all goes from there.

This has a great cast – Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor – a great story and some of the best song and dance numbers you’ll see – and not just from Gene Kelly.

And the final sequence – starting with Lena’s attempts to take over the studio (I will never tire of Jean Hagen as Lena saying “detrimental and deleterious”) all the way through to the end is just *chef kiss*. And like many of these old Hollywood movies, you can dig into the making of it and the stories behind it and it just gets more fascinating. I’m not going to say any more here though – because I know some people think that spoils the magic.

It’ll definitely be on TV at least once over the next month, but you can rent it from all the usual places too

Enjoy!

film, not a book

Not a Book: Judy Garland

Friday marked 100 years since the birth of Judy Garland, so I’m going all Hollywood again here today.. When we went to Wicked earlier in the year, I had a moment as it started where I wasn’t sure if our nieces had seen the Wizard of Oz – but when I checked at the internal they had, so I think it’s still impossible not to have seen a little of her work.

And although you might first encounter her as a child in The Wizard of Oz, if as you grow up you start wandering into Hollywood history (or maybe even if you don’t!) you soon discover the troubled life – the child star whose life was wrecked by her fame and career. She’s not the first troubled child star, but she’s the one who everyone remembers – the drugs she got hooked on after the studio gave them to her to keep her thin, give her energy to work or get her to sleep after work, the troubled personal life, the early death. It all over shadows the actual talent. I’ve put the Get Happy clip in here as well as the Wizard of Oz trailer because people forget that she did upbeat.

And of course there’s so much Garland-related media to consume. Rufus Wainwright is doing his Judy show again this week for the anniversary – I’m still hopeful that one day I will manage to see him do it live, but I’ve listened to the CD to death (yes, I’ve had it that long).

Then of course there’s the plays and movies. I still haven’t watched Renee Zelwegger in Judy, but I did see Tracie Bennett in End of the Rainbow when that was touring and it was really quite something. The clip from the Tony Awards really doesn’t do it justice at all.

And then I was in the Royal Albert Hall for the John Wilson Movie Musical Prom where Caroline O’Connor did this amazing version of The Man That Got Away.

I’ve only watched the 1954 Star is Born once – because as we all know I’m all about the upbeat, but Garland is amazing in it and I still don’t know how she didn’t win the Oscar – and the story about the cameras coming to her hospital room (she’d just given birth) to film her in case she won breaks my heart every time. And The Man That Got Away lost the best song prize too – to a song I’ve never heard off. What a swizz.

In terms of reading material – after all this is a book blog – I read Get Happy by Gerald Clarke more than a decade ago and it’s still considered to be the definitive one so that’s worth a look if you’re interested. But if you don’t want 500 whole pages, she’s Chapter 10 in Anne Helen Petersen’s Scandals of Classic Hollywood as part of the Broken by the System section. And she gets a few mentions (as an example) in Helen O’Hara’s Women vs Hollywood too if you want to read about the bigger picture of Hollywood being awful to women.

But let’s end on the woman herself performing and not on the sadness. I’ve picked the Trolley Song from Meet Me In St Louis, because it’s upbeat and because Judy said that this film, directed by Vincente Minnelli who she went on to marry, was the first time she had ever felt beautiful. Which is sad, but she does look amazing in this film and I’m glad she could see it.

Book of the Week, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Seduction

June’s stats coming up tomorrow, but first, this week’s Book of the Week – where we’re still firmly in non-fiction (that’s three BotW posts in a row now!) and in a different part of my historical sweet spot: classic Hollywood.

Cover of Seduction

As the subtitle suggests, this is an examination of the machinations of movie mogul Howard Hughes.  A controversial and massively famous figure in his day, if you’re not into Hollywood history you’ve probably still seen Howard Hughes references in all sorts of stuff – like the episode of The Simpsons where gambling is legalised and Mr Burns turns weird, or Willard Whyte in Diamonds are Forever or the fact that Stan Lee cited him as an inspiration for Tony Stark.  And of course there’s the Martin Scorsese film The Aviator in which he’s played by Leonardo DiCaprio.  But like Hallie Rubenhold in The Five last week, Karina Longworth is coming at this from the perspective of the women in the case – and there were a lot of them – she examines what Hughes’s obsessions with sex, power and publicity meant for the women in his orbit and how it affected them. Hint: he was a real piece of work, even more than you might already be thinking.

This was where the majority of my commute reading time went last week (five of my six train journeys) because although it’s fascinating it’s also super long. I’m a recent* convert to Longworth’s podcast, You Must Remember This, and was a little bit worried that this was going to be covering some of the same ground that that has already covered, but actually that’s not a problem. Some of the stuff has been touched on, but this is much more in depth and with more space to develop an overarching theme and narrative.

Obviously #MeToo has been much in the news over the last few years and if you want an illustration of what powerful men in Hollywood have been getting away with since the silent era then this is it. It would also serve as a great starting off point for a wider journey into Hollywood lore – I know there’s a few more lives I want to explore and a couple of books off the bibliography that I’ll be keeping an eye open for.

My copy of Seduction came from the library, but it’s out now in hardback, Kindle and Kobo as well as audiobook read by Longworth. NB: if you haven’t listened to her podcast, she’s got a very particular way of talking which can take a bit of getting used to and I know doesn’t work for everyone.  I’m not sure how easy it’s going to be to find in bookstores – it’s available to buy from Waterstones’ website, but not on click and collect – ditto Foyles.

Happy Reading!

*as in a couple of series ago.