Thursday, March 3, 2011

One Year Blogging

While working on this draft, I received a letter that began with the line "We regret to inform you..." needless to say, this post didn't get up on the day for which it was originally intended. Instead I had a couple glasses of wine and watched an old movie. Its interesting that in these dark moments, we cling to what we know for comfort and reassurance.... So... Here is the post that was supposed to go up a couple of days ago:

I have been stuck on what to post. March 1st is my one year blog-aversary and I have had no idea how to recognize the date... I didn't want to let the date pass without at least acknowledging it so I went back and looked at my blogs this past year. I tend to be a perfectionist, so re-reading some of my old posts was both painful and insightful. My first post mentioned that my favorite films are pre-codes, but that only scratched the surface of my absolute adoration for movies made before July 1934.

I decided to dig a little deeper into why pre-code films are so near and dear to my heart. I re watched some of my favorite pre-codes to see what exactly drew me in... Here's what I decided:

I like pre-codes because of the dominating female characters within them. The women in these movies are strong, dynamic, intensely human and fix their eyes on who they want to be as apposed to what society says they should be. I like them because they aren't stoic and silent, instead they are dramatic and emotional. Barbara Stanwyck in Baby Face is a great example of all of these characteristics. She was born into filth, working in a hole in the wall bar, being pimped out to nasty men by her own father, she still has the desire and the gumption to  set her eyes on a higher prize. Granted, she doesn't care who she uses and abuses to reach her stars, sleeping her way to the top of an office building, breaking hearts (like a young John Wayne's) along the way. If her character had been a man, people would have said that she was ambitious but because she is a woman, she is seen as harsh and heartless. But Stanwyck also gives allows herself to change. After being exposed to real true love, she opens herself up to honest vulnerability and takes the her first real leap into a new life. Her character is strong in her resolve throughout the film, and Stanwyck never feels fake or contrived.

Another thing I like about pre-codes is Norma Shearer. This woman was a force to be reckoned with. Her post codes are a mixed bag, but her early stuff is breathtaking. She played women who weren't afraid to live life like men. She almost always reverts back to womanly affection in the end, but with the realization that making choices like a man has its own set of complications and consequences.  You can always see how her characters evolve from the first frame of the film to the last. The Divorcee is probably one of her most famous pre-codes. I love her in this one. Poor Chester Morris is no match for the fury of Norma. I like her best when she underplays a scene. She gets that wonderful dead look stare when she realizes that her life has been forever altered by her husband's indiscretion. Shearer was ambitious, brave and determined in her resolve to be a film star, and when you watch her pre-codes you can understand why she was at the top of her class. 

Pre-code films are wonderful because they are un-predictable in so many ways. The ending isn't always happy, the characters don't fit into any one particular mold (Cagney in Public Enemy may be a gangster, but his qualities are all shades of gray and never black and white) and the violence and sex seem so much more shocking when they happen during a black and white movie. Old movies (according to some) are boring, lame and old hat, but nothing proves those opinions more wrong than a delicious, scandalous pre-code. 

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