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

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  • 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 1 of 23 , Jan 1, 2008
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      > 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 2 of 23 , Jan 1, 2008
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        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 3 of 23 , Jan 1, 2008
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          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 4 of 23 , Jan 1, 2008
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            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 5 of 23 , Jan 1, 2008
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              > 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 6 of 23 , Jan 1, 2008
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                --- 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 7 of 23 , Jan 1, 2008
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                  > 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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