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George Cukor's Genius (was Re: National Film Registry)

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  • jpcoursodon
    ... They could but I don t think they should. This is typical auteurist excess: because such and such scene or shot or gesture from a Cukor film deserves
    Message 1 of 23 , Dec 31, 2007
      --- In a_film_by@yahoogroups.com, "Brian Dauth" <magcomm@...> wrote:

      > These comments could be applied to the majority of Cukor's work, THE
      > WOMEN included.
      >
      > Brian
      >
      They could but I don't think they should. This is typical auteurist
      excess: because such and such scene or shot or gesture from a Cukor
      film deserves praise, then all Cukor films can and should be praised,
      including THE WOMEN (which is barely mentioned among the dozens of
      examples of great direction given in your long and very interesting
      post). Sorry, I may be missing something, but even though I love Cukor
      and many or even most of his films, I won't be browbeatten into liking
      this particular one.
    • Brian Dauth
      ... or gesture from a Cukor film deserves praise, then all Cukor films can and should be praised, including THE WOMEN (which is barely mentioned among the
      Message 2 of 23 , Jan 1, 2008
        > This is typical auteurist excess: because such and such scene or shot
        or gesture from a Cukor film deserves praise, then all Cukor films can
        and should be praised, including THE WOMEN (which is barely mentioned
        among the dozens of examples of great direction given . . .

        Here are a few more:

        * Crystal on the phone wheedling Stephen into coming over for dinner at
        her place (Crawford works miracles with that telephone cord).

        * Mary pulling back from the manicurist as she spills the beans about
        Stephen's infidelity

        * the girdle model with her twirl and canned speech repeated throughout
        the dress shop sequence -- each repetition a shade more desperate/hollow

        * Mary running toward Stephen/the camera at the end of the movie as if
        she were rushing toward the audience itself

        * Crystal in her bathroom where even the decor gestures (the drop down
        privacy sheath)

        * the Countess ordering drinks on the train and toasting "l'amour"

        * Sylvia and Edith at the perfume counter

        I could go on but a) it is late and b) I do not want to spoil all the
        fun of discovery.

        THE WOMEN is an opulent cascade of gestures stitched together with
        Cukor's customary elegance and skill. As you posted earlier Jean-
        Pierre, "people see a film and what each person sees is a different
        film because each person is different." It is probable that these
        cinematic gestures which provide such pleasure to me are just a mass of
        inert celluloid to you.

        > Sorry, I may be missing something, but even though I love Cukor and
        many or even most of his films, I won't be browbeaten into liking this
        particular one.

        You are not missing anything: if it isn't part of your experience then
        it does not exist for you. No attempt at browbeating either with my
        previous post (besides with brows, I prefer tweezing to beating). Just
        an expression of my deep admiration and love for a film where Cukor
        tears it up and radicalizes the Classical Hollywood template with
        precision, abundance and wit.

        Brian
      • Michael E. Grost
        Some common subjects in the films of George Cukor: * Heroines who want to develop themselves (Tarnished Lady, Our Betters, Little Women, Pat and Mike, The
        Message 3 of 23 , Jan 1, 2008
          Some common subjects in the films of George Cukor:

          * Heroines who want to develop themselves (Tarnished Lady, Our
          Betters, Little Women, Pat and Mike, The Actress, It Should Happen to
          You, Let's Make Love, My Fair Lady)
          * Triangle stories, with one man a virile, well-dressed
          businessman, the other a dreamy artist or intellectual, critical of
          society (Tarnished Lady, Gone With the Wind, The Actress, It Should
          Happen to You, My Fair Lady) a man who combines the businessman and
          intellectual (Our Betters) a man who must choose between being a
          businessman and intellectual (Holiday)
          * Men who hire women for long-term relationships (What Price
          Hollywood, Camille, Born Yesterday, A Star is Born, My Fair Lady)
          Women who marry for money or prestige (Tarnished Lady, Our Betters,
          The Women) Men who marry for money (Holiday)
          * Women with groups of uniformed men (Our Betters, It Should
          Happen to You)
          * Women presented to Society at balls - and committing faux pas
          (Our Betters, Gone With the Wind, My Fair Lady) and a man (Holiday)
          * Women playing tennis (Our Betters, Pat and Mike) indoor sports
          arenas (Pat and Mike, The Actress)
          * Documentary sequences (Post Office: The Marrying Kind, Small
          town: The Actress, Central Park: It Should Happen to You)
          * Media of communication (ticker tape: Tarnished Lady, newspaper
          photography: Our Betters, The Philadelphia Story, 16mm film,
          documentaries, live television: It Should Happen to You, Hollywood
          film: What Price Hollywood, A Star is Born, theater: A Double Life,
          The Actress, Let's Make Love, sports: Pat and Mike, telephone,
          magazines: The Actress, speech: My Fair Lady)

          Visual style:

          * Pans, often through 90 degree angles, and sometimes combined
          with tracks (A Double Life, Pat and Mike, It Should Happen to You, My
          Fair Lady)
          * Vertical pans, to roofs of theaters (The Actress, A Star is Born)
          * Multi-story architecture (Holiday, The Actress)
          * Red/orange and blue: color scheme (A Star is Born)
          * Businessmen in pinstripe suits (It Should Happen to You, Rich
          and Famous) with open-topped cars (The Actress, It Should Happen to You)

          Mike Grost
        • jpcoursodon
          A few days ago, out of curiosity, I asked Tag Gallagher (an auteurist if there ever was one -- even though admitedly a sometimes unpredictable one) what he
          Message 4 of 23 , Jan 1, 2008
            A few days ago, out of curiosity, I asked Tag Gallagher (an
            auteurist if there ever was one -- even though admitedly a sometimes
            unpredictable one) what he thought of THE WOMEN. He answered that he
            had seen the film thirty years ago and had no recollection of either
            liking or disliking it -- it just didn't make an impression. He
            added that he hadn't watched a Cukor movie in years -- he is just
            not interested in Cukor's cinema (he did make an exception for
            CAMILLE and THE MARRYING KIND).

            I am quoting Tag not to hide behind an "authority" but to make the
            obvious yet easily forgotten point that even within a group such as
            this one, tastes and opinions about specific films -- and even in
            this case about "canonical" directors -- can vary considerably. The
            way some people responded to Blake's statement about THE WOMEN gave
            me the impression that his opinion was viwed as somehow unacceptable
            and crass beyond expression.

            Clearly it takes a certain kind of sensibility, which I lack, to
            ignore what I perceive as relentless vulgarity and just enjoy
            actresses' "gestures" (although I have a feeling that such gestures
            are not the reason for Fred Camper's admiration for the film, given
            his oft-stated indifference to actresses and acting in general).
            It's not that I am not sensitive to gesture -- I relish the
            gesturing in, say, HIS GIRL FRIDAY, to quote an infinitely
            greater "stage adaptation" that was released just a few months after
            THE WOMEN. But to me, Cukor's direction here only enhances the basic
            grossness of the material (to which the movies's credits pay homage
            and allegiance, proudly stating: "As presented for 666 performances
            in its triumphant run at the Ethel Barrymore Theater.")

            JPC



            --- In a_film_by@yahoogroups.com, "Brian Dauth" <magcomm@...> wrote:
            >
            > > This is typical auteurist excess: because such and such scene or
            shot
            > or gesture from a Cukor film deserves praise, then all Cukor
            films can
            > and should be praised, including THE WOMEN (which is barely
            mentioned
            > among the dozens of examples of great direction given . . .
            >
            > Here are a few more:
            >
            > * Crystal on the phone wheedling Stephen into coming over for
            dinner at
            > her place (Crawford works miracles with that telephone cord).
            >
            > * Mary pulling back from the manicurist as she spills the beans
            about
            > Stephen's infidelity
            >
            > * the girdle model with her twirl and canned speech repeated
            throughout
            > the dress shop sequence -- each repetition a shade more
            desperate/hollow
            >
            > * Mary running toward Stephen/the camera at the end of the movie
            as if
            > she were rushing toward the audience itself
            >
            > * Crystal in her bathroom where even the decor gestures (the drop
            down
            > privacy sheath)
            >
            > * the Countess ordering drinks on the train and toasting "l'amour"
            >
            > * Sylvia and Edith at the perfume counter
            >
            > I could go on but a) it is late and b) I do not want to spoil all
            the
            > fun of discovery.
            >
            > THE WOMEN is an opulent cascade of gestures stitched together with
            > Cukor's customary elegance and skill. As you posted earlier Jean-
            > Pierre, "people see a film and what each person sees is a
            different
            > film because each person is different." It is probable that these
            > cinematic gestures which provide such pleasure to me are just a
            mass of
            > inert celluloid to you.
            >
            > > Sorry, I may be missing something, but even though I love Cukor
            and
            > many or even most of his films, I won't be browbeaten into liking
            this
            > particular one.
            >
            > You are not missing anything: if it isn't part of your experience
            then
            > it does not exist for you. No attempt at browbeating either with
            my
            > previous post (besides with brows, I prefer tweezing to beating).
            Just
            > an expression of my deep admiration and love for a film where
            Cukor
            > tears it up and radicalizes the Classical Hollywood template with
            > precision, abundance and wit.
            >
            > Brian
            >
          • jpcoursodon
            Interesting and accurate, Mike, but couldn t similar subjects and tropes be found in countless other films and directors works? JPC ... to ... sports ...
            Message 5 of 23 , Jan 1, 2008
              Interesting and accurate, Mike, but couldn't similar "subjects" and
              tropes be found in countless other films and directors' works?
              JPC

              --- In a_film_by@yahoogroups.com, "Michael E. Grost" <MG4273@...>
              wrote:
              >
              > Some common subjects in the films of George Cukor:
              >
              > * Heroines who want to develop themselves (Tarnished Lady, Our
              > Betters, Little Women, Pat and Mike, The Actress, It Should Happen
              to
              > You, Let's Make Love, My Fair Lady)
              > * Triangle stories, with one man a virile, well-dressed
              > businessman, the other a dreamy artist or intellectual, critical of
              > society (Tarnished Lady, Gone With the Wind, The Actress, It Should
              > Happen to You, My Fair Lady) a man who combines the businessman and
              > intellectual (Our Betters) a man who must choose between being a
              > businessman and intellectual (Holiday)
              > * Men who hire women for long-term relationships (What Price
              > Hollywood, Camille, Born Yesterday, A Star is Born, My Fair Lady)
              > Women who marry for money or prestige (Tarnished Lady, Our Betters,
              > The Women) Men who marry for money (Holiday)
              > * Women with groups of uniformed men (Our Betters, It Should
              > Happen to You)
              > * Women presented to Society at balls - and committing faux pas
              > (Our Betters, Gone With the Wind, My Fair Lady) and a man (Holiday)
              > * Women playing tennis (Our Betters, Pat and Mike) indoor
              sports
              > arenas (Pat and Mike, The Actress)
              > * Documentary sequences (Post Office: The Marrying Kind, Small
              > town: The Actress, Central Park: It Should Happen to You)
              > * Media of communication (ticker tape: Tarnished Lady,
              newspaper
              > photography: Our Betters, The Philadelphia Story, 16mm film,
              > documentaries, live television: It Should Happen to You, Hollywood
              > film: What Price Hollywood, A Star is Born, theater: A Double Life,
              > The Actress, Let's Make Love, sports: Pat and Mike, telephone,
              > magazines: The Actress, speech: My Fair Lady)
              >
              > Visual style:
              >
              > * Pans, often through 90 degree angles, and sometimes combined
              > with tracks (A Double Life, Pat and Mike, It Should Happen to You,
              My
              > Fair Lady)
              > * Vertical pans, to roofs of theaters (The Actress, A Star is
              Born)
              > * Multi-story architecture (Holiday, The Actress)
              > * Red/orange and blue: color scheme (A Star is Born)
              > * Businessmen in pinstripe suits (It Should Happen to You, Rich
              > and Famous) with open-topped cars (The Actress, It Should Happen
              to You)
              >
              > Mike Grost
              >
            • Brian Dauth
              ... ignore what I perceive as relentless vulgarity . . . I do not ignore the vulgarity and neither does Cukor. In fact, his deployment of gesture/performance
              Message 6 of 23 , Jan 1, 2008
                > Clearly it takes a certain kind of sensibility, which I lack, to
                ignore what I perceive as relentless vulgarity . . .

                I do not ignore the vulgarity and neither does Cukor. In fact, his
                deployment of gesture/performance in the film is his way of doing
                battle with it.

                > . . . and just enjoy actresses' "gestures" . . .

                Why the scare quotes around gestures?

                > It's not that I am not sensitive to gesture -- I relish the
                gesturing in, say, HIS GIRL FRIDAY, to quote an infinitely
                greater "stage adaptation" that was released just a few months after
                THE WOMEN.

                But gestures in Hawks are quite different from those in Cukor. I
                find that Hawksian gestures are more finely calibrated, more a
                product of engineering. Often a Hawks gesture is as simple and
                devastating as the movement of one finger on one hand.

                Cukorian gestures are larger, more performative, and never more so
                than in THE WOMEN. Cukor deliberately amplifies the gestures in
                order to challenge the grossness at its own level of intensity.

                > But to me, Cukor's direction here only enhances the basic grossness
                of the material . . .

                For me, the grossness of the material reflects the grossness of the
                roles women were expected/allowed to play in 1930's America. But
                Cukor turns what could have been a simple/simplistic "How Women
                Should Behave" cinematic manual into a gesture fest where characters
                take possession of their roles through performance and gesture and,
                in doing so, exert power over them.

                To refer back to a seminal moment in the film: Mary Haines swaddling
                herself in a fur negligee only to remove it moments later after
                taking 10 steps. Mary's gesture/performance is that of the wife of
                Stephen Haines, even though that role is no longer hers at this point
                in the film. But Shearer (under Cukor's direction) conveys both
                Mary's understanding that she is/was a kept society wife (considering
                the societal options available to women at the time not a bad lot in
                life) and the self-aware theatricality with which she has embraced
                this role and its gestures. The strength and sincerity of
                Mary's/Shearer's performativity creates a space of autonomy wherein
                both actress and character can breathe and maneuver.

                > . . . (to which the movie's credits pay homage and allegiance,
                proudly stating: "As presented for 666 performances in its triumphant
                run at the Ethel Barrymore Theater.")

                Which only serves to heighten the theatricality of the film and
                reinforce Cukor's vision (ditto the fashion show sequence). To quote
                myself quoting Kevin John: "THE WOMEN [is] a film `full of seizable
                gestures' through which `we acquire a deep sense of the theatricality
                of all our gestures.'"

                Brian

                P.S. The foregoing is not meant to browbeat (either gesturally or
                performatively) in any way whatsoever.
              • jpcoursodon
                ... to ... his ... Just quoting your own word.JP ... after ... intensity. The above statement seems to me arbitrary and unprovable. How do you know Cukor
                Message 7 of 23 , Jan 1, 2008
                  --- In a_film_by@yahoogroups.com, "Brian Dauth" <magcomm@...> wrote:
                  >
                  > > Clearly it takes a certain kind of sensibility, which I lack,
                  to
                  > ignore what I perceive as relentless vulgarity . . .
                  >
                  > I do not ignore the vulgarity and neither does Cukor. In fact,
                  his
                  > deployment of gesture/performance in the film is his way of doing
                  > battle with it.
                  >
                  > > . . . and just enjoy actresses' "gestures" . . .
                  >
                  > Why the scare quotes around gestures?
                  >
                  Just quoting your own word.JP
                  >

                  > It's not that I am not sensitive to gesture -- I relish the
                  > gesturing in, say, HIS GIRL FRIDAY, to quote an infinitely
                  > greater "stage adaptation" that was released just a few months
                  after
                  > THE WOMEN.JP
                  >
                  > But gestures in Hawks are quite different from those in Cukor. I
                  > find that Hawksian gestures are more finely calibrated, more a
                  > product of engineering. Often a Hawks gesture is as simple and
                  > devastating as the movement of one finger on one hand.
                  >
                  > Cukorian gestures are larger, more performative, and never more so
                  > than in THE WOMEN. Cukor deliberately amplifies the gestures in
                  > order to challenge the grossness at its own level of
                  intensity.

                  The above statement seems to me arbitrary and unprovable. How do
                  you know Cukor wants to "challenge" the grossness? His job is to
                  glorify it. I suspect that the rather post-modern kind of second-
                  level irony you credit Cukor with is a product of your own (post-
                  modern?) sensibility.JP

                  > > But to me, Cukor's direction here only enhances the basic
                  grossness
                  > of the material . . .
                  >
                  > For me, the grossness of the material reflects the grossness of
                  the
                  > roles women were expected/allowed to play in 1930's America.

                  Women were "expected" to be constantly bitchy and hating each
                  others?JP

                  But
                  > Cukor turns what could have been a simple/simplistic "How Women
                  > Should Behave"

                  Are you saying that the play shows us "how women should behave"?
                  You've lost me there!

                  cinematic manual into a gesture fest where characters
                  > take possession of their roles through performance and gesture
                  and,
                  > in doing so, exert power over them.


                  But what does that really mean? In all movies, characters take
                  possession of their roles through performance and gesture. There's
                  no other way. What's so special about this particular movie? JP




                  > To refer back to a seminal moment in the film: Mary Haines
                  swaddling
                  > herself in a fur negligee only to remove it moments later after
                  > taking 10 steps. Mary's gesture/performance is that of the wife
                  of
                  > Stephen Haines, even though that role is no longer hers at this
                  point
                  > in the film. But Shearer (under Cukor's direction) conveys both
                  > Mary's understanding that she is/was a kept society wife
                  (considering
                  > the societal options available to women at the time not a bad lot
                  in
                  > life) and the self-aware theatricality with which she has embraced
                  > this role and its gestures. The strength and sincerity of
                  > Mary's/Shearer's performativity creates a space of autonomy
                  wherein
                  > both actress and character can breathe and maneuver.
                  >
                  > > . . . (to which the movie's credits pay homage and allegiance,
                  > proudly stating: "As presented for 666 performances in its
                  triumphant
                  > run at the Ethel Barrymore Theater.")
                  >
                  > Which only serves to heighten the theatricality of the film and
                  > reinforce Cukor's vision (ditto the fashion show sequence). To
                  quote
                  > myself quoting Kevin John: "THE WOMEN [is] a film `full of
                  seizable
                  > gestures' through which `we acquire a deep sense of the
                  theatricality
                  > of all our gestures.'"
                  >
                  > Brian
                  >
                  > P.S. The foregoing is not meant to browbeat (either gesturally or
                  > performatively) in any way whatsoever.


                  > Well, language like "performativity" that "creates a space of
                  autonomy" tends to intimidate me. I ask myself, "Why can't I come up
                  with such elegant words and phrases when auteurists Tom, Dick and
                  Harry seem to do it with the greatest of ease?"

                  Speaking of language, what's a "sizeable gesture"?... When
                  watching the film what I, for one, acquire is a deep sense of the
                  non-theatricality of all my gestures.Of course if one identifies
                  with the ladies on the screen one might feel differently.

                  JPC
                • Brian Dauth
                  ... In my experience of the film, that is what Cukor s use of gesture does. ... Maybe that is how you experience it, but I doubt that Louis B. Mayer said
                  Message 8 of 23 , Jan 1, 2008
                    > How do you know Cukor wants to "challenge" the grossness?

                    In my experience of the film, that is what Cukor's use of gesture
                    does.

                    > His job is to glorify it.

                    Maybe that is how you experience it, but I doubt that Louis B. Mayer
                    said "George, please glorify this vulgarity" or that Cukor would go
                    along with such a request if it had been made.

                    > I suspect that the rather post-modern kind of second-level irony
                    you credit Cukor with is a product of your own (post-modern?)
                    sensibility.

                    I think Cukor is one of the most irony free of all auteurs. I can
                    think of few times when he tries to subvert his material in an ironic
                    way. As for me: I am a Buddhist and we rarely feature irony.

                    > Women were "expected" to be constantly bitchy and hating each
                    others?

                    Yes. Women were expected to compete with each other for the
                    attention and approval of males whose affection and protection were
                    rewards to be won.

                    > In all movies, characters take possession of their roles through
                    performance and gesture. There's no other way. What's so special
                    about this particular movie?

                    The high level of self-consciousness involved in this particular case.

                    > Well, language like "performativity" that "creates a space of
                    autonomy" tends to intimidate me.

                    And you a Positif man? I know you are stronger than that.

                    > I ask myself, "Why can't I come up with such elegant words and
                    phrases when auteurists Tom, Dick and Harry seem to do it with the
                    greatest of ease?"

                    Maybe it is just not part of your aesthetic.

                    > Speaking of language, what's a "sizeable gesture"?...

                    The iteration is Kevin John's, but my understanding of it is that a
                    seizable gesture is a heightened gesture that draws a viewer into a
                    deeper/closer experience of the film where it appears.

                    > When watching the film what I, for one, acquire is a deep sense of
                    the non-theatricality of all my gestures. Of course if one
                    identifies with the ladies on the screen one might feel differently.

                    I do not think it has anything to do with whether or not a viewer
                    identifies with the characters on screen. I think it depends on how
                    a person understands human behavior.

                    Brian
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