Review and Recap of Judy: Beyond the Rainbow

This is yet another documentary that I repeatedly watched and re-watched on YouTube. The A&E (from the days before they aired Duck Dynasty and before they completely abandoned their original purpose, but I digress) documentary from 1997, as a part of their Biography series, tells the story of the incomparable singer and actress, Judy Garland. The documentary is told through narration, archive photos and footage, and interviews from numerous people who knew Garland.

Judy: Beyond the Rainbow focuses Garland’s life from shortly before her birth, to her death.

It begins with Garland’s upbringing in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, and focuses on her beginnings of stardom.  Her family moved to California when she was four, and she began performing publicly with her two older sisters.

Garland eventually auditioned with MGM at the age of 12, and she captivated the studio with her singing voice, which was much, much, much, much more mature than would be expected for a girl her age.

MGM struggled to figure out what to do with Garland because she was too old to be a child star, but too young to be an adult performer.  At a height of four feet and eleven-and-a-half inches, she was did not have the look of other tall, slender actresses at MGM, such as Lana Turner.  She was a “girl next door.”

Eventually, Garland was cast in her signature role, Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.  This film included her signature song “Over the Rainbow” which she would sing for the rest of her life.

Throughour the 1940s Garland became a big star; she also got married to Vincente Minnelli, and had her first child, Liza Minnelli, but there were lots of problems in her professional life.  Her dependency on drugs made it more and more difficult to keep up with the demands that MGM made of her.  She was fired from three films, and left MGM.

Despite this, she found renewed success on stage including, most notably on the Palace on Broadway.

Garland married again to Sid Luft, who, as her manager, was a big part in her success singing on stage.  They later had two children, Lorna and Joey Luft

Garland and Luft tried to make a comeback with the film A Star Is Born for Warner Bros., but the production was troubled.  Despite this, the film was very good and premiered to universally positive reviews.  Then Warner Bros. decided to cut about 30 minutes from the film, which caused outrage.  The film failed to make a profit, but Garland was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress.  She was expected to win.  Since she had recently given birth, a camera crew was set up in her room to broadcast her acceptance speech.  However, Grace Kelly won for her role in The Country Girl.  The crew immediately packed up their equipment and left, without saying another word.

Through the rest of the 1950s, Garland performed on stage and on TV.  In the early 1960s she had her own show on CBS, The Judy Garland Show, but it lasted for only one season.

In 1969, Garland married her fifth husband, Mickey Deans in London, and they lived in the Chelsea neighborhood.  On June 22, 1969, Deans found Garland dead on the bathroom floor.  This ended the life of an incomparable singer, actress, and entertainer.

The documentary is one of my favorites because of the subject.  Garland was very talented.  But her talent was equally matched by the troubles of her life.  It was easy to see the triumphs and struggles of Garland’s life, and this was helped by the numerous amounts of archival footage, narration, and interviews with several the actors, musicians, and filmmakers that worked with Garland.  I really recommend this documentary to fans of Garland and fans of classic cinema.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Review and Recap of the Documentary, Marilyn: The Final Days and the Film, Something’s Got to Give

Multiple times on YouTube, I have watched and re-watched the documentary Marilyn: The Finals Days.  It focused on the final days in the life of iconic actress, Marilyn Monroe, and they were as tumultuous as many of the other moments in her life.

Monroe signed on the do the film Something’s Got to Give for 20th Century Fox.  It was directed by George Cukor, and it co-starred Dean Martin and Cyd Charisse.  The plot of the film was as follows: Ellen Arden has been lost as sea for five years.  Her husband, Nick Arden, has her declared legally dead, and he marries his second wife Bianca Steele Arden.  The same day, Ellen is rescued and returns home.  This leads to complications as Nick must tell Bianca the truth of Ellen’s rescue, but he becomes jealous when he learns that Ellen was stranded on an island with a man.

The production of the film was very troubled.  Cukor was reluctant to work with Monroe after her unreliable behavior on the set of Let’s Make Love.  In fact, Monroe was very difficult to work with.  Nearly every film she did was over budget and behind schedule.  She often was absent and late on the set due to mental conditions, physical aliments, emotional issues, among other struggles.  And Fox had even bigger worries, their film Cleopatra was even more behind schedule and even more over budget.  Something’s Got to Give was intended to be released by October 1962 so as to help raise desperately needed money for the studio.

In addition to the the studio’s financial woes and Monroe’s reputation for unreliability, the film had no finished script, and constant re-writes put the film over budget before any footage had been shot.

Filming was scheduled to begin on April 16, 1962, but Cukor chose to delay filming by a week to April 23, 1926, and Monroe traveled from Los Angeles to New York City, to go over her role with the help of acting coaches Lee and Paula Strasberg at The Actors Studio; Monroe had been studying there and with the Strasbergs for several years in order to improve her acting skills, so that she could show the world that she is more than just a dumb blonde sex object.  When she returned, Monroe became ill; she had caught a cold from Paula, which developed into something far worse.

On the day filming was to begin, Monroe called in sick, and the studio doctor said that she has sinusitis; it was recommended that filming be delayed by one month so that Monroe could fully recover, but the studio refused.  Cukor re-organized the schedule to shoot scenes without Monroe.

Monroe reported for work for the first time on April 30, 1962.

Monroe was frequently absent from work because of her illnesses which included sinusitis, bronchitis, fevers, and headaches.  This pushed the film behind scheduled and even more over budget. but soon, the cast and crew were getting tired of her.   Many felt that she was not really sick at all.  They so no evidence of her being unwell.  The film fell ten days behind schedule. When time came for her to sing at President John F. Kennedy’s birthday gala in New York, the studio did not want her to go although she had been given permission to attend before filming started.

Monroe went anyway, and this was an iconic moment in her life, when she sang “Happy Birthday, Mr. President.”

Fox was furious.  But Monroe attended work regularly during  the next several days.  And she filmed her iconic nude scene which helped give the film more publicity, and it put the her back in the studio’s good graces.

On June 1, 1962, Monroe turned 36.  The crew wanted to celebrate as soon as she arrived on set, but Cukor insisted that they wait until the end of the working day.  After a simple celebration, Monroe attended a Muscular Dystrophy benefit at Dodger Stadium.

The following Monday, Monroe called in sick yet again.  The cold weather on the night of the benefit caused her to get a fever.  Fox had enough.  They fired her for breach of contract.  All of the cast and crew were suspended.

There were plans to replace Monroe, but Martin refused to do the film without Monroe.  Monroe and Fox came to a new deal.  Monroe would be paid one million dollars to do two films for Fox, and Fox agreed to replace Cukor with Jean Negulesco whom she had worked with on How to Marry a Millionaire  Monroe also agreed to not have her acting coach, Paula Strasberg on the set.  Strasberg was unpopular because many of Monroe’s directors felt that they had less control over Monroe than Strasberg did.  The contract was signed on August 1, 1962.  The film was to resume production in October.

On August 5, 1962, Monroe was found dead of an overdose.  The film was shut down.

The documentary then mentioned Monroe’s unforgettable legacy, and the impact she has had on countless people since her death.

(It is mentioned that eventually Fox, started over from scratch and remade the film as Move Over, Darling, starring, Doris Day, James Garner, and Polly Bergen.)

What I found fascinating about the documentary was the struggles that were depicted.  The struggles that Monroe had personally, and the struggles of the studio were very clear discussed.  There were numerous talking head interviews from several people who knew Monroe, such as Cyd Chrassise, producer Henry T. Weinstein, the Strasbergs’ daughter Susan Strasberg, Monroe’s internist, Dr. Hyman Engelberg, among others, who gave their own insight about Monroe and the film’s troubled production.   And there was plenty of archival footage and photographs

The next part of the documentary is a reconstruction of Something’s Got to Give.  Most of the footage was unseen for many decades until for the documentary, it was restored and edited into a 37-minute segment, which served to give people an example of what it may have looked like, had it been released as planned.

It’s hard to review the film.  On the one hand, it feels unfair to criticize a movie that was never finished.  However, with all things being considered, it was not very bad.  With what few scenes were completed and edited together, it seems very interesting.  There are funny moments.  And despite there being many gaps in the narrative, everything is coherent, and it ends with a resolution of a kind.

The documentary can be seen here, with the film immediately following:

The film can bee seen by itself here:

And you can see some raw-unedited footage here.

 

Chicago International Film Festival: Into the Clouds We Gaze (MCOM 4735, 6735 / IFDI 5735: Documentary Filmmaking Critical Viewing Assignment)

For my documentary film class, I also had to see a film at the Chicago International Film Festival.

MCOM 4735, 6735 / IFDI 5735:  Documentary Filmmaking

Critical Viewing Assignment – Due:  October 27th

 

Part of the fun of being a filmmaker is that you’re expected to watch A LOT of films.  It’s no different in this class, as one of your assignments is to view a documentary film at the upcoming film festival.

 

The 50th Annual Chicago International Film Festival will be taking place in Chicago on October 9th through October 23rd.  There are several documentary films that will be shown throughout the course of the film festival.  Please check the Chicago International Film Festival’s website for film descriptions, showtimes, and the theatre’s location:  http://www.chicagofilmfestival.com/.  It is not unusual for a film’s director or cast member to take part in a Q&A sessions after the screening.  If this is the case with your film, your participation is highly recommended, as you can learn a lot about the filmmaking process from these industry professionals.

 

Your papers should be 3-7 pages long (double-spaced) and it should include the following things:

  • A summary of the film
  • Production elements (demographics, overall theme(s), shooting techniques, etc.)
  • Personal reflection on your experience at the film festival


I hope you enjoy the festival!

 

Ellis Sutton

MCOM 4735, 6735 / IFDI 5735:  Documentary Filmmaking

Critical Viewing Assignment

On Tuesday, October 21, 2014 at 4:30 PM, I went to the Chicago International Film Festival at the AMC River East 21 theater to see the documentary film Into the Clouds We Gaze.  It follows a young man named Rada who lives in the northern Bohemia region of the Czech Republic.

Rada seems to have only one thing that he truly cares about in life: his car, a Ford Escort, and customizing it with stereos and lights.  Rada also goes to festivals where electronic dance music is played, and where people show off their cars at night while playing their music.

Rada also has practical things to care about.  He does not have stable employment throughout the documentary.  Near the beginning of the film, he gets a job at a factory.  He eventually changes to jobs to one at a farm, handling the heavy machinery there.

In the meantime, Rada spends time with his girlfriend who has a young daughter from a previous relationship.  She at one point expresses how she is afraid to tell her daughter the truth about her father who abandoned them when she became pregnant.

Rada eventually leaves her for another young woman that he cares more about and had stronger feelings for.

The film ends with Rada doing what he has done throughout the entire film: meandering about through his life not having any real direction.

The documentary was directed by Martin Dusek.  I watched an interview with Dusek, and he said that his goal was to document a young man who has no real purpose for his life that he has determined, and who is not particularly unique or interesting.

Thinking about this film, it is hard to understand the point, but the director’s words make it clear that the point is that there is no real point at all.

The film does not seem to have much of a real story arc, and while things happen, they did not seem to add anything to the film.  It was just a documentation of a young man who does things without much of a real purpose.

The production aspects were interesting.  The documentary is in a cinema verite style.  There is no narration.  There are no lower-thirds or “talking head” interviews.  The subjects are followed as they engage in their day to day lives.  They do not seem to acknowledge the camera.

The cinematography looked clean and clear.  There was a variety of camera angles such as close-up, long shots, medium shots, and anything one could think of.

This was only the second time I went to the Festival. (I had gone the previous day.)  I knew what to expect, and therefore, things were straight forward.

An interesting thing about the screening is that the director of the documentary attended the screening, and he introduced the film, which was great.

This concludes my paper.  While, I did not completely enjoy the film, and I considered it to have its share of flaws, I am more than willing to attend the CIFF again next year.

 

 

A few more additional thoughts on Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes

I think Byron Hurt did get men to look at themselves.  The reason is that first and foremost, he provided a context to the hip-hop music that people don’t necessarily see.  He did research and interviewed people on how hip-hop affects them and what rappers are really saying in their music.    I feel that if people listen, they will reconsider what they are listening to and watching, and examine whether the effect is has on them is good or not and what they should do about the effects of hip-hop on them.  The documentary clearly shows that people mimic the attitudes and behaviors expressed in hip-hop and many of those attitudes and behaviors are negative such as sexually harassing women, being violent towards another man because “he looked at you the wrong way,” or any type of behavior that is harmful towards other people or oneself.  I believe that Hurt’s documentary will hopefully encourage people to think for themselves and not allow the media to influence them negatively because he shows people the objective effect that hip-hop has on them.

Needless to say, sexism is everywhere in our culture.  Men and women are both perpetrators and victims of it.  Women are often objectified and are often pressured to conform to limited roles such as being a wife and mother.  Despite the fact that women work far more often than they did in the past, women still are expected to balance motherhood and their careers.  Many say that a woman can’t be a wife, mother, and have a career, and be able to do it well.  Men don’t seem to have this struggle to nearly the same extent.  People rarely, if ever, talk about how men are unable to be a husband, father, and have a career.  I suppose the reason is that women are expected to be children’s caregivers while men are expected to support their wives and children financially.

A trend I have noticed in combatting gender discrimination is that women who reject traditional gender roles have more support than men who do the same.  For example, in high school, I noticed a handful of girls who dressed as boys do, and they were generally accepted by the school at large.  However, I once heard of a boy who came to school dressed as girl, and the reaction was less than favorable to say the least.  In society in general women are often trying to defy traditional gender roles because they are constricting and subjugating, but men who do the same are often frowned upon probably because of some latent hatred of femininity.

Hip-Hop and Its Effect on Gender Roles

This is yet another assignment from a past class I took.  Once again, this was an English class where we read and wrote about social issues surrounding sex, gender, race, and class.  The class mixed sociology with English.  This paper talked about the documentary Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, by Byron Hurt and talked about several of the gender and racial aspects  of hip-hop.

Enjoy.

Ellis Sutton

10/2/2012

English 102

Hip-Hop and Its Effect on Gender Roles

Sex is a person’s biological role in reproduction.  Gender is the role and behavior associated with a person’s sex.  Males and females, boys and girls, and men and women, all have specific behaviors that they are expected to do or not do.  However, ever since humanity began, there have been people who have questioned, rejected, and even attempted to change gender roles on the grounds that they are harmful, constricting and the like.  Byron Hurt, an activist, is one of the many people who have done that.  In his documentary, Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, Hurt attempts to find out what hip-hop and rap music says about what roles men and women should and shouldn’t have (“Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes”).

A point made over and over again throughout Hurt’s documentary is that hip-hop often sends the message that men need to be dominant towards women and other men.  Rap lyrics and music videos often contain content that glorifies being violent towards other men for generally senseless reasons such as “stepping on one’s turf” or “looking at them the wrong way.”  Hip-hop is in a way a form of a common trope in American culture that equates masculinity with violence.  Some of the rappers Hurt interviewed for the documentary film, said that the message that men, especially black men, receive is that they have to command and demand respect, never express anything that could be perceived as weakness, and never let other men disrespect or degrade them (“Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes”).

People ask why hip-hop is so violent.  One reason is that black men in America often are disadvantaged financially.  Many black men can’t use money to assert their dominance so they decide to sue their bodies to fulfill that goal.  They act as though they are “hard”, use aggressive mannerisms, and the like.  By contrast, men who are wealthy don’t tend to come across as violent because they can use money to show dominance (“Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes”).

Hip-hop has another side to gender roles that poses a risk that is just as great if not greater than the idea that men must be hyper masculine and violent towards one another.  It is the issue of how women are treated.  Rap lyrics routinely refer to women with epithets such as “bitches,” and “hos.”  Women in rap videos are depicted wearing very little clothing next to fully-dressed men; the implication is that women are objects who exist solely for the sexual pleasure of men.  They have no other worth or value.  Hurt documented the consequences of such media messages:  At the BET Spring Bling event in Daytona, Florida, young men who attended the event routinely sexually harassed and sexually assaulted young women by shooting video cameras under their skirts or groping them.  It is stated that in the black community, issues that affect blacks as a whole or black men are given greater importance than the issues of misogyny, sexism, and violence against women.  One of the results of those attitudes is the sobering fact that black women are 33% more likely than their white counterparts to be victims of domestic violence (“Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes”).  Even women are desensitized by hip-hop and seem to accept the messages to an extent.  Hurt asked one young woman about what she thought about misogynistic hip-hop lyrics.  She said that they don’t offend because they aren’t specifically targeted to her.

When it comes to hip-hop portraying certain gender roles for men, there is an irony.  It’s very common for rappers (and people in society in general) to denigrate men for “being less of a man” if they cry or fail to conform to what society considers to be masculine.  This also includes lyrics that are homophobic.  However, the irony of homophobia in rap is that rap has a homoerotic subtext.  The documentary notes that for example, there is a video featuring a shirtless LL Cool J, and the viewer is encouraged to look at him.  In addition when rappers talk about the pursuit of sex, they focus less on the women and more on working together with their friends to get sex  (“Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes”).

There is an important reason why hip-hop expresses the messages that it expresses.  In the early days of the genre rappers talked about political issues in their lyrics, but over time, the lyrics changed to have less substance.  One would wonder why that would happen.  The record companies are seemingly uninterested in signing artists that talk about so-called worthy issues and more interested in artists talking about violence, drugs, sex, and the like.  The documentary suggests a racist subtext because the record executives are mostly white men who allegedly don’t blacks to criticize their subjugation in society.  It is remarked that this is a trend that is not fundamentally different to old American films that depicted African Americans in a manner which reinforced negative black stereotypes such as being lazy or violent.  Some amateur rappers whom Hurt, interviewed said that the white record executives do not want to perpetuate positive images of black men, and they even expressed that they don’t engage in crimes, don’t neglect their parental responsibilities, nor would they want their sons to emulate the behaviors of rappers.

Byron Hurt set out in his documentary to depict what hip-hop music says about gender roles and how those messages affect society (“Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes”).  When the documentary is over, one can clearly see that many of the messages and views expressed in hip-hop are negative and have equally undesirable consequences.  This begs the question: what can be done about these consequences? I think that what needs to be done is that people need to first and foremost think about the media they consume.  They have to decide whether the messages and views expressed in the media they consume are positive or negative.  People also need to think about the media they consume is affecting them in a positive way or not.  Afterwards, they have to decide what to do about it.  Will they change their attitudes and if so how?  Will they listen to music that doesn’t disrespect people?  Will they continue to listen to potentially harmful music, but not let it influence them to partake in negative behaviors?  The only way that people can change society for the better is for people to start with themselves and takes personal responsibility.

Works Cited

Hurt, Byron, dir. “Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes.”Independent Lens. 20 FEB 2007. DVD.

A Summary of “It’s Not Always a Wonderful Life” from Freakonomics

Jarecki, Eugene, written and directed, “It’s Not Always a Wonder Life.” Freakonomics Dir. Chad Troutwine. Magnolia home entertainment

A Summary of “It’s Not Always a Wonderful Life” from Freakonomics

            This segment talks about how when crime rates in America was at their highest, and how the rates dropped sharply and why they dropped.  In New York City, for example, the police became more proactive.  Other reasons were increased incarceration rates.  After the Supreme Court ruled anti-abortion laws unconstitutional in 1973, fewer unwanted babies were born; since unwanted babies are more likely to become criminals due to being taken care of less well, they are more likely to do poorly in school, engage in self-destructive behavior, and engage in anti-social behavior.  The segment is neutral but still shows that abortion does play a role in decreasing crime rates; the question now is whether or not our society should use abortion to help lower crime rates.

“A Roshanda By Any Other Name” Objective Summary Response

The segment “A Roshanda by Any Other Name” in the film Freakonomics talks about what possible effect the name a person is given will have on their lives.  There is also discussion on the types of names that white people and black people tend to name their children.  White people are more likely to give their children European names, while black people tend to give their children names that are Arabic and African in origin or names that sound made-up and are thought of as ghetto.  The segment mentions that people with names that are considered unique, “black-sounding,” or strange will have a harder time in life.  It is mentioned that a study was made where resumes were sent out, and the resumes with so-called white names received more callbacks than identical resumes with black names.  In addition it was mentioned there was a belief that a person with a black name is more likely to have a hard time in life, being poor, being raised without a father, being violent, doing poorly in school and etc.  However, the film showed the types of parents that give their children stereotypically white names will be more likely to be poor, single parents, and unable to give their child an upbringing that is considered “ideal.”  Certain names are favored by certain socioeconomic groups.  The segment ends with the story of a man who named one son Winner and the other Loser.  Loser turned out to be a successful person.  Winner turned out exactly the opposite.  The conclusion is that often it is a person’s actions that make more of a difference in their lives than their names.

`Spurlock, Morgan, “A Roshanda by Any Other Name” from the film Freakonomics. 2010. DVD. Magnolia Pictures, 2011.