FILM REVIEW – “Judy”

“Judy” is a biographical film made on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the death of Judy Garland. It is also a textbook example of Oscar-bait, a film carefully constructed to attract as many Academy Award nominations as possible. A talented actress who changes her appearance and gives a showcase of the art of imitation? Check. A tragic story about the need to sacrifice important things in life for art? Check. A nomination for the Academy Award for the best leading actress was a sure thing. I think Renée Zellweger is likely to win the second Academy Award in her career. But is “Judy” a good movie?

Generally – yeah, sort of. But I do of course have some reservations 😉

  • young Judy Garland
  • young Judy Garland
  • Judy Garland with her children
  • Judy Garland the LGBT icon

The Artist vs. The Human

The movie states its thesis in the very first scene – clearly, without subtlety. A teenage Judy is walking around “The Wizard of Oz” movie set with Louis B. Mayer. She confides in him that sometimes she would like to be a normal girl. He tells her that she has a gift which normal girls do not own. This gift is what makes her stand out, so she must use it. Judy agrees, but her face expresses doubt. And immediately we know that this conflict will be the heart of the movie. We also know that ultimately it will not be resolved (because in such films it never is).

I think the biggest problem of this movie is that if someone doesn’t know why Judy Garland is one of the greatest entertainers of the 20th century, they will not learn it watching this movie. The plot does not show the details of Judy’s career, except for her role in “The Wizard of Oz”. The movie expects the audience to either have a general knowledge of Judy’s life or to pay a lot of attention to what’s happening on screen. Important aspects of her life, like four marriages, addiction to alcohol and various prescription drugs, and the reasons for her endless financial problems, are only briefly outlined or summed up with single sentences.

It’s hard not to notice some similarities between the story of Judy and the stories of young Disney stars who in adulthood experience many problems caused by the restrictions imposed on them by the studio. Individual scenes suggest the enormous influence that MGM studio had on how young Judy looked, what she ate, how much she weighed, who she met with. In Judy’s adulthood, this leads to various addictions, and the overwhelming need to be loved. The need which is not satisfied by her five marriages or the adoration of the audience.

Yet, we do not see Judy’s greatest successes or her biggest problems. They are somewhere in the past. They influence her behaviour, her decisions, the way she relates to people in her life. But a viewer who has no knowledge of her biography may not have context and will misunderstand the fragments of Judy that we see on the screen.

Judy Garland, The Legend

My favourite subplot in the movie, which appears quite accidentally and ultimately does not lead anywhere, is the story of a pair of gay men. They come to every concert of Judy and one time end up spending an evening with her. I did not expect the movie to touch upon Judy’s status as an LGBT icon. In the 1940s and 1950s, when the so-called “homosexual activities” were illegal, and gay communities often used slang to not be understood by the straight majority, gays were often called “friends of Dorothy”.

There is a really touching scene when Judy sings a song for the two men, and one of them cries looking at her photos hanging on the wall. We do not know the details of their experiences, living in a long-term relationship during the times when they could have been imprisoned for it. But we see how the shared passion and inspiration found in their idol’s difficult life were what kept them alive.

I was all the more disappointed by a later scene of a conversation with the venue director, where Judy blames the pair for her exhaustion and calls them “fruits” (a pejorative slang term for gay men).

Being Judy Garland

Renée Zellweger is really good as Judy. You can see that she has done her homework when it comes to studying and learning Judy’s mannerisms. There were a few moments when I forgot it was Zellweger and not Garland I saw on the screen. To tell the truth, the make-artists are also to thank for that. They used not only make-up but also a prosthetic nose, teeth and contact lenses to make the actress look like Judy. Even so, I am sure that there will be those who will criticise this performance, talking about exaggeration, parodying gestures. Maybe they will even be right. In my opinion, Zellweger is so honest in it that I believe her. I believe Judy might have behaved like that.

But what about the singing?

The only false note (har har) in her performance is, in my opinion, the decision to use her own vocals. I’ve never thought of Renée Zellweger as a great singer, and her role in “Chicago” rather confirmed this for me. In “Judy” she sings much better and stronger, but still, it is not the voice of Judy Garland. It’s worth remembering that even at the end of her life, struggling with addictions, Judy still had an amazing voice.

Still, it is quite impressive that the vocals were reportedly recorded live. So what we see on screen is not a lipsync for a studio recording, but a record of how the scene really went. And although it wasn’t Judy’s vocal class, I admit, I shed a few tears during songs like “Come Rain or Come Shine” or “Over The Rainbow”.

The supporting roles in the film are quite solid, although no one stands out significantly. Above all, young Darci Shaw is memorable as young Judy. Known for his many roles in “American Horror Story”, Finn Wittrock does what he can as Mickey Deans, Judy’s last husband. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have much to work with. Neither do Michael Gambon, Rufus Sewell and Jessie Buckley.

Final thoughts

“Judy” is a good movie, but it absolutely is not an outstanding one. The creators’ intention to achieve a specific effect is a little too visible, but Renée Zellweger’s performance is really good. The dilemma at the heart of it – career or “real life” is a rather banal cliche, which, unfortunately, often plagues the biographies of great artists. But the determination of Judy, who knows nothing else than being a stage artist, and at the same time wants to be a good mother and wife, is shown credibly and poignantly at times.

If you’re interested in learning more about the movie and Judy in general, I recommend “The JUDY Companion”. Its author perfectly sums up what is missing in the movie. Personally, I agree with her 100%.

P.S. Watching “Judy” I couldn’t stop thinking about another movie about a brilliant singer in the last days of her life. I’m thinking about “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill”, which I wholeheartedly recommend (you can watch it on HBO GO). Both films are adaptations of theatre plays and in both cases, it can be felt. In the case of “Lady Day …” this is obviously harder to avoid. The action takes place during one concert of Billie Holliday, during which she mentions the hardships of her life. The creators of the film simply shot the performance of the amazing Audra McDonald, using several different shots. This is a much simpler task, but there is still a similarity between the movies.

P.P.S. I wrote this review before, as I predicted, Renée Zellweger won an Academy Award for her performance in the movie. Called it.

NOIRVEMBER Day 13 – Noir Music – Jill Tracy “Diabolical Streak”

NOIRVEMBER Day 13Hello lovelies! In this Noirvember post, we’re back to the topic of music! As you may remember, in my previous music-oriented post I wrote that the sound of film noir is, ostensibly, jazz. But what would the modern sound of film noir be? I think the music of Jill Tracy provides a very good example.

Modern-Day Woman of Mystery

Who is this Jill Tracy? You might know her music without realizing it’s hers! Noirvember is the perfect occasion to get to know her music, as it is a combination of sultry vocals, evocative piano, and dark, dark mood.

(from Jill Tracy’s website)

Jill Tracy is a San Francisco-based singer/pianist, storyteller, and “sonic archeologist” who has garnered multiple awards and a passionate following for her beautifully haunting, cinematic music, sophisticated lyrics, old-world glamour—and curious passion for strange tales.

Hailed a “femme fatale for the thinking man” by the San Francisco Chronicle, Jill Tracy was described by NPR’s All Things Considered as “utterly intriguing, transporting you into a magical world solely of her creation.” LA Weekly has deemed her “the cult darling of the Underworld.”

Her music has appeared on film and television, including Showtime’s Dexter, CBS hit Navy NCIS, and the motion picture Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

“Diabolical Streak”, the album I’m specifically recommending to you, is Jill Tracy’s second album. I think artists of burlesque, cabaret and belly dance will definitely recognize its songs, as they are very popular. Jill Tracy recorded three other albums after “Diabolical Streak”. One of them is a score to F.W. Murnau’s 1922 silent vampire classic “Nosferatu”, an another is an “accidental Christmas album”. According to her website, she is currently recording new material. Still, none of her other recordings reached the popularity of “Diabolical Streak”.

Please, listen to these few of my favourites, although I highly recommend listening to the whole album!

Do you like Jill Tracy’s music? Do you have your favourite artists whose music makes you think of film noir? Perhaps you even have a speciali playlist for Noirvember? If so, please share it in the comments!

NOIRVEMBER Day 12 – FILM REVIEW – “Gilda”(1946)

NOIRVEMBER Day 12Time for another film noir classic for Noirvember! Today I’m recommending you all watch “Gilda”.

Gilda, are you decent?

Much like “The Maltese Falcon” was the film that made Humphrey Bogart the ultimate film noir detective, “Gilda” made Rita Hayworth one of the greatest femmes fatales. The movie somewhat consciously references “Casablanca”, which came out four years earlier. The eponymous heroine is stranded in Buenos Aires at the end of the second world war, trapped between her sadistic, middle-aged husband, the Nazi-sympathiser Ballin Mundson (George Macready), and her ex-lover, the cruel, amoral American adventurer, Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford). Gilda herself is no saint either. The overall plot is arguably quite darker than was usual at the time. There is even some homoerotic subtext to the relationship between Ballin and Johnny! The ending might surprise some of the first-time viewers, especially those who mostly know about the movie from its iconic musical scene or the hair-flip moment.

Still, I have to say that the hair flip is arguably one of the most memorable character introductions in film history.

“Gilda” is notable not only for its story but, perhaps even more than that, for its style. Hayworth’s wardrobe is enviable, the staging of musical number is just phenomenal, and the photography is beautiful.

As was the case with other noir classics I wrote about before, it’s not a surprise that “Gilda” was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”. It goes without saying that you should definitely watch it!

Interesting fact: did you know that the black dress worn by Rita Hayworth in the “Put The Blame on Mame” scene has its own Wikipedia page? And that it was one of the inspirations behind the character of Jessica Rabbit from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”?

What are your favourite noir classics? Do you have your own Noirvember watch list? Please share it in the comments!

NOIRVEMBER Day 11 – Film Noir Posters

The Art of Film Poster

In this Noirvember series I do intend to explore more than just noir films themselves. So today I want to look at something that sometimes we, quite unfairly, forget when we think about films – and that is film posters.

My motherland, Poland, is known in the international film community for its unique, artistic film posters. And I mean known. As BFI writes:

Established in 1947, the Polish School of Posters was a loose association of artists headed by Henryk Tomaszewski. Tomaszewski taught at Warsaw Fine Art Academy and encouraged his students to move away from posters created in western Europe, which he considered to be too commercial.

It was a bold undertaking but the breakthrough came at the 1948 International Poster Exhibition in Vienna (organised by Austrian graphic artist Victor Theodor Slama). Two thousand posters from 18 countries were exhibited, and Tomaszewski and Eryk Lipiński won 12 gold medals between them.

So in today’s Noirvember post I would like to show you some of my favourite Polish posters for various noir films.

Noirvember Day 11 - Polish Film Noir Posters

“The Woman in the Window”

Noirvember Day 11 - Polish Film Noir Posters

“Sunset Boulevard”

Noirvember Day 11 - Polish Film Noir Posters

“Rififi”

Noirvember Day 11 - Polish Film Noir Posters

“Elevator to the Gallows”

Noirvember Day 11 - Polish Film Noir Posters

“Chinatown”

Noirvember Day 11 - Polish Film Noir Posters

“Mulholland Drive”

Do you pay attention to film posters? Have you seen some of these before? Or maybe you have some favourites that I did not mention? Please write in the comments!

Are you enjoying this Noirvember series so far? Maybe you have some specific topics you would like me to write about? Drop me a line in the comments, via e-mail or on my fan page!

NOIRVEMBER Day 10 – Non-American Noir

Noirvember Day 10Hello darlings! In today’s Noirvember post I want to write a few words about noir films created outside the US of A. Noir seems like a very American genre, but in reality, it took inspiration from German expressionism and Italian neo-realism. What is more, many classic film noir directors (Robert Siodmak, Fritz Lang, Otto Preminger, Jules Dassin, Michael Curtiz) were in fact European immigrants.

The Third Man (1949)

The 1949 British film noir was directed by Carol Reed and written by Graham Greene. It stars Joseph Cotten, Valli (Alida Valli), Orson Welles, and Trevor Howard. The film takes place in post-World-War-II Vienna. It centres on Holly Martins, an American who is given a job in Vienna by his friend Harry Lime, but when Holly arrives in Vienna he gets the news that Lime is dead. Martins then meets with Lime’s acquaintances in an attempt to investigate what he considers a suspicious death. In 1999, the British Film Institute voted The Third Man the greatest British film of all time. It’s a true classic worth watching!

Interesting fact: the title music “The Third Man Theme” topped the international music charts in 1950.

Obsession (1949) (US Title: The Hidden Room)

This 1949 British film directed by Edward Dmytryk is based on the book “A Man About A Dog” by Alec Coppel, who also wrote the screenplay for the film, and turned the story into a novel. The movie is a slow-burning but pretty gruesome story of revenge. Dr. Clive Riordan, a psychiatrist, discovers that his wife, Storm (what a name, right?) is cheating on him. Soon, he resolves to kill his wife’s lover, an American diplomat.  “Obsession” was entered into the 1949 Cannes Film Festival.

Shoot the Piano Player (1960) (French Title: Tirez sur le pianiste; UK Title: Shoot the Pianist)

A washed-up classical pianist, Charlie Kohler/Edouard Saroyan, bottoms out after his wife’s suicide — stroking the keys in a Parisian dive bar. The waitress, Lena, is falling in love with Charlie, who, as it turns out, is not who he says he is. When his brothers get in trouble with gangsters, Charlie inadvertently gets dragged into the chaos and is forced to rejoin the family he once fled. The film is a strange mix of slapstick comedy and heartbreak. A man swears to his honesty on his mother’s soul, and the camera cuts away to dear old mom as she falls down dead in her kitchen. The movie is also interesting for its mix of filming techniques. The director, François Truffaut, uses many elements of French New Wave cinema: extended voice-overs, out-of-sequence shots, and sudden jump cuts. The movie references the style of Hollywood B movies from 1940s, as well as Charlie Chaplin, the Marx brothers and “Citizen Kane”.

Le Doulos (1962) (The Finger Man)

At the beginning of the movie, there is an information for the viewer, that the title refers to a style of hat or a police informant. Naturally, the film provides an abundance of both. As is very often with noir films, “Le Doulos” is based on a novel by Pierre Lesou. Writer-director Jean-Pierre Melville blends Lesou’s words with twists on symbols and staples of American noir. Quentin Tarantino cited the screenplay for “Le Doulos” as one of his personal favorite, and said it was a large influence on his debut picture “Reservoir Dogs”.

Elevator to the Gallows (1958) (French Title: Ascenseur pour l’échafaud)

Since it was the French film critics that gave film noir its name, it’s no wonder that this list contains so many French titles. The mood of American noir is clearly visible in French movies of 1950s and 1960s. Here, the director pays an homage homage to noir and subverts its structure at the same time. As for the plot, the movie is about a pair of criminals, Florence and Julien. They plan on murdering Florence’s husband, but their plan quickly falls apart when the Julien gets stuck in an elevator. The film also contains an unorthodox, experimental editing and somber, Miles Davis-performed jazz score.

So, have you seen any of these films? Or maybe you’ve got your favourite non-American noir films? If so, write them in the comments. For more ideas, check out this list of international noir films by Flavorwire.

NOIRVEMBER Day 9 – Film Noir Fashion Photoshoots

Noirvember Day 9Another day, another Noirvember post! Let me give you a little spoiler of the things to come later this month. Apart from movies, I am going to write about inspirations behind film noir and inspirations from film noir. I already talked a bit about the sound of film noir, but today I want to focus on the look of film noir.

A Dame to Kill For

Because film noir has such a strong visual style associated with clear emotions, it provides inspiration to fashion designers, photographers & other artists to this day! This is why today, I would like to give you a list of film noir-inspired photo shoots that I have already posted about in the past!

  1. Style Noir, Vogue Italia (2009)Noirvember Day 9 - Style Noir
  2. Thinking of a Glamorous Time, Vogue Italia (2012)
    Noirvember Day 9 - Thinking of a Glamorous Time
  3. Killers Kill, Dead Men Die, Vanity Fair (2007)
    Noirvember Day 9 - Killer Kill, Dead Men Die

Do you think this list is missing some iconic film noir-inspired fashion photo shoot? Share your favourites in the comments!

NOIRVEMBER Day 8 – Are you in a film noir?

noirvember

It’s a new week of Noirvember! I can’t believe how quickly time goes by! But fear not, I still have many things planned for this month, so keep coming back for new content 🙂

Today I want you to think very hard about one thing – are you actually, at this moment, in a film noir? If you’re not sure, below you will find a chart to help you.

Illustrated by Brendan Ternus.

Illustrated by Brendan Ternus.

The chart was published at College Humor in 2014.

By the way, did you take a chance to watch any noir movies so far? Do you have a specific subject you would like to hear me talk about? Please, share your thoughts in the comments below or on my fanpage!

NOIRVEMBER Day 7 – FILM REVIEW – The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Noirvember Day 7I cannot go through Noirvember and not write about one of my favourite films. Not just noir films, but films in general. So here goes!

A guy without a conscience! A dame without a heart!

It is tough to summarize the plot of “The Maltese Falcon”. The film’s protagonist is a private detective, Sam Spade. He is hired to handle a simple case for a Miss Wonderly. He quickly finds himself in the middle of a complicated intrigue, full of betrayal and murders perpetrated by adventurers obsessed with finding a legendary precious figurine.

Released in 1941, “The Maltese Falcon” was not the first adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s novel The novel, which to this day is a hard-boiled classic, originally appeared in parts in pulp magazine “Black Mask” in 1929. Hammett’s style of writing was an influence for many other crime writers, such as Raymond Chandler, John Le Carré or Sara Paretsky. Hammett was one of the first to take the “crime” part of whodunit novels and place it on the streets. Gone were the closed spaces, train compartments, drawing rooms of Agatha Christie stories. Due to its popularity, the novel was quickly adapted into a movie in 1931, which achieved moderate success. The second, more comedic adaptation (“Satan Met A Lady”, 1936) received even poorer reviews despite having Bette Davies in it. But the third time’s a charm! At first the 1941 film was planned simply as a remake of the first adaptation. Soon after its release, this version became the most popular one, thanks to great casting and production.

The stuff that dreams are made of

“The Maltese Falcon” was the movie that put writer-director John Huston on the Hollywood map. It showcased Humphrey Bogart’s talent and proved he could be a successful leading man. Although it’s clearly Bogart’s feature, the supporting cast is wonderful as well. Mary Astor is convincing as the innocent but dangerous Brigid O’Shaughnessy. Peter Lorre plays the sleazy, effeminate Joel Cairo. The others – Sydney Greenstreet, Lee Patrick, Jerome Cowan, Gladys George – are great too. They brilliantly transferred their novel characters to the silver screen. In fact, the chemistry between Bogart, Lorre and Greenstreet was so impressive that they appeared together in two more movies (“Casablanca” and “Passage to Marseille”).

The influence of “The Maltese Falcon” on the following movies is undeniable. The archetype of private detective was forever changed with the antiheroic, cynical Sam Spade. Bogart’s delivery of the dialogue became iconic. The visual style was a result of Huston combining elements of German expressionism with classic Hollywood techniques. The interplay of light and shadows matches the dark plots and shady characters.

What I really, really like about this movie is how seamless it seems. There are no unnecessary shots, no extra scenes. This is impressive, considering it was Huston’s first full-length film. The story is that he prepared for it meticulously, planning the shoots with sketches and instructions for camera setup. As a result, the final version of the movie retains almost all dialogue from the original shots. Of course, some elements from the original novel had to be removed due to the restrictions of the Hays Code. Nevertheless, it’s really no wonder that, like “Double Indemnity”, the U.S. Library of Congress deemed the movie “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”, and thus selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1989.

Should you watch it?

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! Since it’s my first time participating in Noirvember, all the movies I’m recommending are real classics, so if you are unfamiliar with film noir, I highly recommend you watch the ones I’m going to write about this month. And don’t forget that you can watch “The Maltese Falcon” on Netflix!

NOIRVEMBER Day 6 – My Favourite Film Noir Quotes

Noirvember Day 6 - film noir quotes

Hello lovelies! In today’s Noirvember post I want to talk about my favourite quotes from noir movies!

I think witty writing is an essential element of good film noir. Due to the constraints of the Hays Code, scriptwriters had to be inventive in showing the dubious morality of their characters.

The Big Sleep (1946)

Vivian, not talking about horses: “Speaking of horses, I like to play them myself. But I like to see them work out a little first, see if they’re front runners or come from behind, find out what their whole card is, what makes them run.”

Philip Marlowe: “Find out mine?”

Vivian: “I think so.”

Marlowe: “Go ahead.”

Vivian: “I’d say you don’t like to be rated. You like to get out in front, open up a little lead, take a little breather in the backstretch, and then come home free.”

Marlowe: “You don’t like to be rated yourself.”

Vivian: “I haven’t met anyone yet that can do it. Any suggestions?”

Marlowe: “Well, I can’t tell till I’ve seen you over a distance of ground. You’ve got a touch of class, but I don’t know how far you can go.”

Vivian: “A lot depends on who’s in the saddle.”

 

Double Indemnity (1944)

Phyllis Dietrichson, at their first meeting: “There’s a speed limit in this state, Mr. Neff. Forty-five miles an hour.”

Walter Neff: “How fast was I going, officer?”

Phyllis: “I’d say around 90.”

Neff: “Suppose you get down off your motorcycle and give me a ticket.”

Phyllis: “Suppose I let you off with a warning this time”

Neff: “Suppose it doesn’t take.”

Phyllis: “Suppose I have to whack you over the knuckles.”

Neff: “Suppose I bust out crying and put my head on your shoulder.”

Phyllis: “Suppose you try putting it on my husband’s shoulder.”

Neff: “That tears it.”

 

Murder, My Sweet (1944)

“Okay Marlowe,” I said to myself, ‘You’re a tough guy. You’ve been sapped twice, choked, beaten silly with a gun, shot in the arm until you’re crazy as a couple of waltzing mice. Now let’s see you do something really tough—like putting your pants on.”

 

Out of the Past (1947)

Jeff: “That’s not the way to win.”

Kathie: “Is there a way to win?”

Jeff: “There’s a way to lose more slowly.”

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

“We didn’t exactly believe your story, Miss O’Shaughnessy. We believed your two hundred dollars. I mean, you paid us more than if you’d been telling us the truth, and enough more to make it all right.”

Do you have your favourite quotes from movies? Maybe you’ve even used them in real life? Tell me in the comments!

Happy Noirvember!

NOIRVEMBER Day 5 – Crime jazz

Noirvember - Day 5

Hello lovelies! How is Noirvember treating you so far? Have you felt inspired to watch any movies?

What is the sound of film noir?

What are the must-have elements of a film noir? For me it’s the setting (a dark city), the characters (a femme fatale, a detective, a crook) and… the music. The style of noir is undisputably very visual, but the music also sets the mood for the dirty affairs taking place in the shadows. And what is the sound of noir? Why, of course, it’s jazz.

Up ’til 1930s and 1940s movie soundtracks were dominated by classical orchestral arrangements. Then, somewhere, Hollywood married the then-new jazz styles with the gritty, black-and-white mystery film, and linked them forever in the popular consciousness. Jazz became truly popular as a style of music used in movie and TV soundtracks in the 1950s. It was the music of the street, the music of bars and clubs, so whenever these elements were prominent in the stories on screen, jazz became the background sound. The particular type of jazz which we can hear in the film soundtracks is now dubbed “dark jazz” or “crime jazz”(a retroactively-given name, much like “film noir”). Xeni Jardin at Boing Boing defined this genre quite brilliantly as “jazzy theme music from 1950s TV shows and movies in which very bad people do very bad things”.

Get yourself in the mood for some noir with these tracks!

So, do you agree with these choices? Do you have your own Noirvember playlist? Share them in the comments!