Documentary on dancer reveals rare strength of character

Tanaquil Le Clercq served as a muse to dance giants George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins.

Tanaquil Le Clercq served as a muse to dance giants George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins.

 

At 17, Tanaquil Le Clercq was dancing principal parts in the New York City Ballet.

At 17, Tanaquil Le Clercq was dancing principal parts in the New York City Ballet. Kino Lorber

Tanaquil “Tanny” Le Clercq isn’t a well-known name. But it should be.

Born in Paris on Oct. 2, 1929, to a French father and American mother, her family moved to New York when she was 3. At 17, the stunningly elegant ballerina was dancing principal parts in the New York City Ballet. She was a muse to famed choreographers Jerome Robbins and George Balanchine, whom she married in 1952. Beauty, grace, love and success were hers.

But four years later her life fell apart – on tour in Copenhagen, Tanny contracted polio and most of her body was paralyzed. She never walked or danced again. With her husband’s help, however, she made a partial recuperation and regained the use of her arms. Refusing to give in to self-pity, Tanny turned her attention to teaching, coaching, writing and cooking. She died on Dec. 31, 2000.

Her unusual name as well as her indomitable, inspiring spirit will likely get more of the recognition it deserves thanks to director Nancy Buirski’s new documentary “Afternoon of a Faun,” which is showing Wednesday, April 9, at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, co-presented with Dance Camera West. Dance critic Debra Levine will talk with the director after the screening.

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On Valentine’s Day: 14 reasons we love ‘Double Indemnity’

Double Indemnity poster

Yes, we’re still gushing about “Double Indemnity,” the film noir classic from 1944. Deal with it. Oh, and happy Valentine‘s weekend, btw!

Billy Wilder‘s great prototype film noir turns 70 this year and yet it never gets old. Starring Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson, the movie boasts a screenplay that Wilder co-wrote with Raymond Chandler, based on James M. Cain‘s novel, which was inspired by actual events.

Here’s why we hold the picture dear to our hearts, dearies.

14. As film noir historian and author Foster Hirsch put it, at a recent screening at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, “It’s the quintessential film noir. This is the mother lode, primary source film noir. It’s the basis for every film noir you’ve ever loved.”

13. Someone with the name Walter Neff turns out to be a tough guy.

12. All Walter has to do to escape punishment is sit tight. Yet, his ego drives him toward a final confrontation with his lover/partner in crime.

11. Barbara Stanwyck’s Phyllis Dietrichson is a fashion victim. If you need convincing, read the piece below re: her awful wig.

10. The first time Phyllis shows up at Walter’s apartment, she says she is returning his hat (which he supposedly left at her house) but the previous scene clearly shows him taking his hat as he leaves. Still, there’s so much tension between them, who cares?!

9. The door to Walter’s apartment opens the wrong way (it shields Phyllis on one of her visits) but you’re so caught up in the story you hardly notice.

As Billy Wilder acknowledged, no door in the world would open this way.

As Billy Wilder acknowledged, no door in the world would open this way.

8. You could buy Phyllis Dietrichson’s house for $30,000, even if that took a lifetime to pay off.

7. You could have a beer at a drive-in restaurant, served by a car-hop, no less.

6. The look of supreme satisfaction on Phyllis’s face at the moment her husband is murdered.

5. Stanwyck and MacMurray both took a risk and played against type.

4. Edward G. Robinson almost steals the show and it’s really a bromance between his character and MacMurray’s Walter Neff.

3. Raymond Chandler makes a cameo appearance, about 16 minutes into the movie, at Walter’s office building.

2. It’s perfectly paced – you can watch it over and over and it moves along lickety split every time, leaving you wanting more.

1. It truly ranks as a classic flick – it’s as fresh, sexy and funny today as it was in 1944. The writing, acting, directing cinematography, lighting, art direction are matchless.

Do you love “Double Indemnity” as much as we do? Then let us know!

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Stanwyck a fashion victim? Heck yeah, look at the wig

Very few actresses truly deserve accolades like stellar, peerless, magnificent and amazing. Barbara Stanwyck, who had a stage, film and TV career spanning more than 50 years, is surely one of that select group. She might have cringed at such lofty praise, however, referring to herself as “a tough old broad from Brooklyn.”

Adjectives aside, Stanwyck stands out for the range of parts she played, her discipline as an artist, and the subtlety and strength of her performances. Tonight, she is honored at the Aero Theatre with a screening of  Double Indemnity” (1944, Billy Wilder) and “The Bitter Tea of General Yen” (1933, Frank Capra). Before the movies, Victoria Wilson, author of a new Stanwyck biography, will discuss and sign her book, “A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True 1907-1940.

It is the 70th birthday of Double Indemnityand so I am rerunning this post on Phyllis Dietrichson’s tawdry blonde wig. The piece also includes some observations from master director Billy Wilder on working with Barbara – born Ruby Catherine Stevens on July 16, 1907, and later nicknamed Babs, Missy and The Queen. She still rules today.

Double Indemnity posterIf I ever need assurance that every femme fatale has a styling glitch from time to time, I look at Barbara Stanwyck’s awful wig in “Double Indemnity,” a quintessential noir from 1944, directed by Billy Wilder.

Paramount production head Buddy DeSylva said of the stiff blonde ’do, “We hired Barbara Stanwyck and here we get George Washington.”

It also reminded me that it had been ages since I’d looked at my copy of “Conversations with Wilder” by Cameron Crowe, published in 1999. Of course, I flipped right to Wilder’s answer to Crowe’s question about the direction given to Barbara Stanwyck in “Double Indemnity” for the silent shot on her face while the murder is occurring.

Said Wilder: Sure, that was a highly intelligent actress, Miss Stanwyck. I questioned the wig, but it was proper, because it was a phony wig. It was an obviously phony wig. And the anklet – the equipment of a woman, you know, that is married to this kind of man. They scream for murder.

Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray star in "Double Indemnity" from 1944. Both played against type.

Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray star in “Double Indemnity” from 1944. Both played against type.

Yeah, naturally we rehearsed this thing. But I rehearsed it with her once or twice, that’s the maximum, and it was not that much different from the way she would have done it. She was just an extraordinary woman. She took the script, loved it, right from the word go, didn’t have the agent come and say, “Look, she’s to play a murderess, she must get more money, because she’s never going to work again.”

With Stanwyck, I had absolutely no difficulties at all. And she knew the script, everybody‘s lines. You could wake her up in the middle of the night and she’d know the scene. Never a fault, never a mistake – just a wonderful brain she had.

Crowe asked if the part had been written for Stanwyck. Wilder said: Yeah. And then there there was an actor by the name of Fred MacMurray at Paramount, and he played comedies. Small dramatic parts, big parts in comedies. I let him read it, and he said, “I can’t do that.” And I said, “Why can’t you?” He said, “It requires acting!” [Laughs.] I said, “Look, you have now arrived in comedy, you’re at a certain point where you either have to stop, or you have to jump over the river and start something new.” He said, “Will you tell me when I’m no good?” [He nods: a partnership is born.] And he was wonderful because it’s odd casting.

Paramount image of “Double Indemnity”

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Film noir greats ‘Shadow of a Doubt,’ In a Lonely Place,’ Double Indemnity’ and more on the big screen in LA

By Film Noir Blonde and Michael Wilmington

Shadow of a Doubt” (1943, Alfred Hitchcock) is the 1 p.m. matinee Tuesday, Feb. 4, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

A bright and beautiful small town girl named Charlotte “Charlie” Newton (Teresa Wright) is bored. Bored with her well-ordered home in her Norman Rockwellish little city of Santa Rosa, Calif., – where trees line the sunlit streets, everyone goes to church on Sunday and lots of them read murder mysteries at night. Charlie has more exotic dreams. She adores her globe-trotting, urbane Uncle Charlie Oakley (Joseph Cotten) – for whom she was nicknamed – and is deliriously happy when he shows up in Santa Rosa for a visit.

Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright play kindred spirits, sort of, in “Shadow.”

Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright play kindred spirits, sort of, in “Shadow.”

But Uncle Charlie has some secrets that no one in his circle would guess – not Uncle Charlie’s adoring sister (Patricia Collinge), nor his good-hearted brother-in-law (Henry Travers), nor their mystery-loving neighbor Herbie (Hume Cronyn), nor Charlie herself. Uncle Charlie, who conceals a darker personality and profession beneath his charming persona, is on the run, pursued by a dogged police detective (Macdonald Carey), who suspects him of being a notorious serial killer who seduces rich old widows and kills them for their money. As handsome, cold-blooded Uncle Charlie, Cotten, who also called “Shadow” his personal favorite film, is, with Robert Walker and Anthony Perkins, one of the three great Hitchcockian psychopaths.

“Shadow of a Doubt,” released in 1943, was Hitchcock’s sixth American movie and the one he often described as his favorite. As he explained to François Truffaut, this was because he felt that his critical enemies, the “plausibles,” could have nothing to quibble about with “Shadow.” It was written by two superb chroniclers of Americana, Thornton Wilder (“Our Town”) and Sally Benson (“Meet Me in St. Louis”), along with Hitch’s constant collaborator, wife Alma Reville. The result is one of the supreme examples of Hitchcockian counterpoint: with a sunny, tranquil background against which dark terror erupts.

Barbara Stanwyck book

On Thursday night at 7:30 p.m., the American Cinematheque presents a Nicholas Ray night at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood: “Johnny Guitar,” starring Joan Crawford and Sterling Hayden, and “In a Lonely Place,” starring Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame. As Jean-Luc Godard said: “Nicholas Ray is the cinema.” And speaking of Godard, the AC’s Aero Theatre is hosting a Godard retrospective, starting Feb. 20.

Femmes fatales don’t particularly like birthdays, but here’s an exception:  “Double Indemnity” turns 70 this year! Did you know Raymond Chandler made a cameo in the film? Read the story here.

And be sure to attend on Sunday, Feb. 9, at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica: Barbara Stanwyck biographer Victoria Wilson will sign her book and introduce a screening of “Double Indemnity” and “The Bitter Tea of General Yen.” The signing starts at 6:30 p.m. and the show starts at 7:30 p.m.

Wilson has two other signings coming up; for details, call Larry Edmunds Bookshop at 323-463-3273.

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Taviani Brothers to be honored at Cinema Italian Style 2012

Cinema Italian Style 2012, showcasing classic Italian films and contemporary productions, starts Tuesday at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.

Playing Tuesday night is “Two Women” (1960, Vittorio De Sica) starring Sophia Loren. The legendary Italian actress won a Best Actress Oscar for her work – the first awarded for a non-English performance. The screening is dedicated to Loren’s husband, producer Carlo Ponti (1912-2007).

On Wednesday, I look forward to seeing Italy’s official entry for the 2012 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar: “Caesar Must Die,” a drama about inmates in an Italian prison who are staging Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.”

Also that night, the directors of “Caesar Must Die,” Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, will receive this year’s Cinema Italian Style Award. I’ll be attending with my documentary filmmaker friend Michael Reano, who is visiting from Minneapolis, and it should be a great time. “Caesar Must Die” has been generating much buzz; the film won the Golden Bear at 2012 Berlin International Film Festival.

The style prize is awarded to a person who has promoted exchange between the Italian and international film industry. Previous recipients include George Clooney, Penelope Cruz, Terry Gilliam, Vittorio Storaro, Milena Canonero, John Turturro and Douglas Kirkland.

In addition to the Taviani brothers, several Italian filmmakers and stars will attend screenings at this year’s festival: Ivan Cotroneo, Michele Riondino, Carolina Crescentini, Claudia Potenza and Andrea Bosca.

Cinema Italian Style runs Nov. 13-18 at the Egyptian and Aero Theatres. There is also a special documentary night at the Italian Cultural Institute in Los Angeles. (All films in Italian with English subtitles.)

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Aero Theatre offers straight-up noir delight with Sam Fuller mini-fest, Fritz Lang night, Barry Sullivan tribute

Sam Fuller

The Aero Theatre in Santa Monica has some terrific noir offerings, starting this weekend. First up, an homage to a master: Underworld U.S.A.: The Pulpy Heart of Sam Fuller Cinema. Highlights of the series include: “Shock Corridor,” “Pickup on South Street,” “Underworld U.S.A.” and “The Naked Kiss.”

As part of Monday Night Mysteries, on Aug. 27, there’s a Fritz Lang double feature, starting with a new 35mm print of “The Big Heat,” starring Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame and Lee Marvin, followed by “The Woman in the Window,” in which Edward G. Robinson risks his cozy life as a college professor to have an affair with Joan Bennett.

If you missed Alan Ladd’s noir-tinged take on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel “The Great Gatsby” at this year’s Film Noir Festival, you have a second chance to see the film on Wednesday, Aug. 29. “Gatsby,” which, in addition to Ladd, stars Barry Sullivan as Tom Buchanan, is paired with another Sullivan vehicle, “The Gangster,” to mark the centennial of the actor’s birth. Special guests scheduled to attend on Wednesday are the actor’s daughter Jenny Sullivan and the Film Noir Foundation’s Alan K. Rode.

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Noir greats at LACMA; a Nicholson noir night at the Aero

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) has a particularly good lineup of classic and neo noirs this month.

“Rear Window” (1954) 1 p.m. Tuesday, July 12

“Pickpocket” (1959) 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 16

“Bay of Angels” (1963) 9 p.m. Saturday, July 16

“The Letter” (1940) 1 p.m. Tuesday, July 19

“The Honeymoon Killers” (1970) 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 21

Bette Davis stars in "The Letter" by director William Wyler.

“In a Lonely Place” (1950) 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 22

“The Long Goodbye”(1973) 9:15 p.m. Friday, July 22

“Mulholland Dr.” (2001) 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 23

“The Lady from Shanghai” (1948) 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 29

“The Conformist” (1971) 9:10 p.m. Friday, July 29

Tickets range from $2 for the matinees to $10 for evening double features ($5 for one film only). Discounts for LACMA members and seniors. For tickets, call 323-857-6010 or visit the web site; there is a $2 charge to buy online. For synopses of the movies, see LACMA’s listings. LACMA is at 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, 90036.

Additionally, the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica is running a “Jack Nicholson Noir” double bill on Saturday, July 23, starting at 7:30. The films are Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown” and “The Two Jakes,” which Nicholson directed. The Aero Theatre is at 1328 Montana Ave. General admission is $11; members pay $7. Visit the American Cinematheque for the complete schedule.

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Cinematheque honors Alfred Hitchcock, Bernard Herrmann

You can always count on the American Cinematheque to give noiristas some love.

The Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood is running Suspense Account: The Films of Alfred Hitchcock, featuring his Technicolor spectaculars, such as “North by Northwest,” “Rear Window,” “Vertigo,” “The Birds,” “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” and “To Catch a Thief.” Also showing are suspense thrillers “Notorious,” “Shadow of a Doubt,” “Suspicion,” “Spellbound,” “Saboteur” and “Psycho.” Now under way, the series runs through June 9.

Additionally, from June 23-30, the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica will host A Centennial Tribute to Composer Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975), one of cinema’s most brilliant and influential artists. The series will screen “Cape Fear,” On Dangerous Ground,” “Citizen Kane,” “The Magnificent Ambersons,” “Vertigo,” “Obsession,” “Marnie,” “Psycho,” and “Hangover Square.”

Check the schedule for more details. The Egyptian Theatre is at 6712 Hollywood Blvd. The Aero Theatre is at 1328 Montana Ave. General admission is $11; members pay $7.

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What’s new at the Aero and the Egyptian in February

There’s much classic and neo noir to choose from this month at the American Cinematheque in Los Angeles. Highlights at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood and the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica include:
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Director Christopher Nolan appears at the Egyptian’s “Memento” screening to mark the film’s Blu-ray launch; 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 4.
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As part of the Gypsy Rose Lee Centennial, “Gypsy” shows at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 9, at the Aero. Come back to the Aero for Valentine’s weekend to see “Casablanca” and “Double Indemnity” at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 13.

Anjelica Huston

Anjelica Huston will attend the showing of “Prizzi’s Honor” and “The Dead” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 19, at the Aero.

“Reservoir Dogs” comes to the Aero at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 23.
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The Egyptian Theatre is at 6712 Hollywood Blvd. The Aero Theatre is at 1328 Montana Ave. General admission is $11; members pay $7. Several programs at the Aero were unconfirmed; be sure to check the schedule for final times.
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