Wednesday, March 11, 2009

You've Come A Long Way, Baby

Yesterday afternoon, I spent 15 minutes watching Fred Zinneman's 1977 film: Julia. The film is based on a book by Lillian Hellman, author of The Children's Hour, which was noted briefly here the other day. Ms. Hellman's relationship with Dashiell Hammet, the detective story writer, is pretty well known, as is the fact that she was a prominent and controversial, maybe a fascinating, figure in the McCarthy saga. There are people around who know a lot more about that than I do.

I'm interested in the relationship between Hellman and Hammet, Lilly and Dash, as portrayed by Fonda and Robards, that I caught a little of yesterday.

I started watching at about the time Hellman is finishing her first play. Hammet sends her back to rewrite it. The second try meets his approval. It's a success on Broadway. She gets royalty checks, he gives her the benefit of his wisdom on the subject of money, fame and writing.

"Free me glazies!" Little Alex cried.

I can't explain why, but that piece of film literally made me sick to my stomach.

I haven't found a way to capture short pieces of video for fair use yet, or I'd inflict the needy, cloying Fonda and the smug, condescending Robards on you here. Be grateful for small favors.


Tom Manoff said...

Someone was just mentioning Fred Zinnemann and I realized that I didn't know all his movies. It's quite a list. Among them: The Day of the Jackal, A Man for All Seasons,Oklahoma, From Here to Eternity and High Noon.

"Julia" is not one of my favorites, though, as you say, it does open the door on the relationship between Hellman and Hammett. There's a book of Hammett's letters which I ordered thinking about this. Two bucks plus shipping. What I remember most about the movie is the vivid performance by Vanessa Redgrave, an actress I like quite a bit.

Lots of issues on the blacklist here. Hellman's famous book about it is "Scoundrel Time," which has been criticized as self-serving and loose with the facts.

Hammett seems the most interesting person here, at least to me, his writing so influential in what would become Film Noir.

Billy Glad said...

I'm sure a director and actors of that caliber knew exactly what they were doing. The question is: Did Hellman?

Tom Manoff said...

Do you mean Hellman as the author of the screenplay or her work in general?

Billy Glad said...

As a viewer of the film. When you put your life story in someone else's hands, I wonder if you can ever be completely satisfied with the results.

Tom Manoff said...

Looking up "Julia" on IMDb, I see that she wrote the novel not the screenplay. Following the links, I find that Alvin Sargent wrote the screenplay for Julia. Now he's a writer I like more than a bit. He wrote episodes of Route 66 and Naked City. Films-Ordinary People, Stalking Moon. Bobby Deerfield and more recently, two films I really like, Spider-Man 2 and 3. Maybe if he had used more connective strands among the characters in Julia as he did for Spidy, the film would have had more range from the actors. Naked City to Spider-Man with Ordinary People in the middle shows a real talent.

Putting your life in the hands of a writer and director. Scary I would imagine. Wouldn't casting be the first issue?

Tom Manoff said...

Off topic, well really not. Speaking of writing, I really liked "The Ice Is Breaking Up." Just to punish myself --did you write it in one pass with no edit? Dare I ask how long it took to write it, because I have the feeling it wasn't long at all. That's something I really admire about your writing, and others here --such easy flow with so much content, style, feeling. Each with a different style. None of it seeming "worked on."

Billy Glad said...

The frustrating thing is I haven't figured out a way to get clips from the films up. I have the Pudovkin film and I was looking at the montage as I was scribbling the comment on the thaw, but I couldn't put it up. I think that's an effect of Web 2.0

I used to write about film without feeling the need to illustrate points, relying on the assumption that the reader had seen the film. Doing that now feels like I'm leaving something out.

I wanted to continue the exchange GFTB and I had had about Metonomy v. Methaphor, but that was too hard to do without the visual. It's easy now to imagine creating a metaphor that compares the revolution to a Spring thaw and a torrential river by alternating shots of marchers and the river, but the vocabulary of film has evolved for almost 100 years now. It's not clear to me that someone watching Mother in 1926 would have immediately realized that two things, happening at the same time, were related figuratively as well as temporaly. Pudovkin creates the metaphor (the revolution is a raging river) by making an explicit, metonymic connection between the workers and the river when he shows the workers' reflections in the flowing river. The amazing thing to me is he did that on purpose. In 1926.

I wonder if there is any public personality I like more than Jane Fonda. Probably the result of watching Barbarella in an altered state. I was pleased to discover that she has a web site.

I write, post, then edit constantly, confounding my critics.

Tom Manoff said...

Having that bit of film on hand seems essential. How restrictive are "fair use" policies on the web? Seems to me that if offered as a review, the only problem would be length.