Apr 24, 2018
The Enthusiast presents
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953, dir. Howard Hawks)
Welcome to The Enthusiast!
I’m grateful you’re here and I hope you enjoy my views on entertainments, things and ideas I love, at least a fraction as much as I enjoy sharing them.
My feelings are big. I'm sure yours are too, but I have no point of reference. I’m completely inside my own head. And when I enjoy something, I can get maniacal (I know I do; I hear myself getting really loud and I feel my face get hot when I share my opinions) so I've created this series of blog entries to serve as a repository. Think of The Enthusiast as an "overflow room" for excess delight.
Today I’m going to enthuse about a movie I re-watched recently. I’m so glad I did.
“I can be smart when it's important, but most men don't like it.”
That’s how Lorelei Lee, played by Marilyn Monroe, explains herself to her fiancé’s skeptical father, near the end of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. It's a painful line, delivered matter-of-factly with a sense of assuredness that says a lot about women, men and the roles they're expected to play. And that's what the Howard Hawks film (Hollywood's take on the Anita Loos novel and subsequent stage musical) does, in its shiny, technicolor way -- it examines gender roles, and in a 1953-audience-friendly way, upends them.
How did Lorelei get there, summing up her survival strategy in what men assume is their world? Here’s the movie in a nutshell:
Lorelei and her best friend Dorothy Shaw (Jane Russell) are entertainers, traveling by sea to a gig in Paris. It is there that Lorelei’s fiancé, sweet-natured millionaire Gus, will meet her for their wedding, despite Gus’s father’s disapproval of Lorelei’s gold-digging reputation. Along the way, Lorelei will get distracted by a diamond tiara, Dorothy will fall for a charming blackmailer and an engagement will be broken.
I can see where some might gloss over Gentlemen Prefer Blondes as lightweight (Marilyn plays a "dumb blonde," men act like idiots, all those sequins), but I don’t. So many scenes, bits and themes are played expertly, and the screenplay by Anita Loos, Charles Lederer and Joseph Fields alternates absurdity with biting cleverness at just the right clip. For me, true escape provides somewhere to go, and I lose myself in this movie every time I see it.
It’s easy to see why Monroe's star went into supernova after this film. Allegedly, Howard Hawks campaigned to make use of Monroe as more of an actress than the studio had intended, and the result is comic platinum. Of course her curves and sparkle get ample screen time, but not without sharp timing and quick-draw delivery (the way she cuts men off from speaking when incensed, then abruptly exits, is hilarious). Her Lorelei is too interesting to be dismissed as dumb, and too focused to seem accidental.
I don’t even have to go into the command she brings to “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend,” one of Hollywood’s most famous production numbers, masterminded by choreographer-director Jack Cole. She’s precise, natural, coquettish and wise, all the while making love to the camera, knowing it’s the audience who feels it.
But this isn’t a film about Monroe. It’s about Monroe as fortune hunter, Russell as man hunter and the chemistry they bring to the screen. Where Monroe breathes life into Lorelei’s deceptive bubble of logic, Russell shows the weariness of a girl who’s seen the world and been burned by it. She hasn’t been hardened by men – not yet – but she’s been sufficiently tempered. Dorothy knows that a good time with a hot guy will do, whatever the outcome.
Russell is great at making this apparent without being vulgar: it’s clear that Dorothy is man-crazy, but she winks more than she leers. She lets us in on the joke. She makes us feel as smart as she is.
Russell and Monroe harmonize visually as much as they do musically. They contrast in speech, blend in song and there’s plenty of room for each other to dazzle; they’re perfect complements. Both women are beautiful and lush, but Russell’s limbs and features are angular where Monroe’s are soft and round. Even with that scandalous bust and those Roman goddess hips, Russell strikes an almost masculine figure alongside Monroe’s poised, painted fertility symbol.
About masculine figures... there are a lot of them in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Off the top of my head, the only other movie I can recall giving as much time to female attitudes on the male species is Thelma & Louise, nearly four decades later and a whole lot grimmer. But like Thelma and Louise, Dorothy and Lorelei call the shots, take matters into their own hands, and put men in their place when justice demands it.
Men have their fill of whistling, joking and fawning over the women's physical gifts, but all's fair when Dorothy serenades (and objectifies) the U.S. Olympic team, pumped for her pleasure. She weaves in and out of a screenful of nearly-naked men, packed into tight flesh-colored bathing suits straining against tanned and bulging flesh. At one point, they line up to border her runway, cheering her with their muscled buttocks in a proto-twerk jam disguised as calisthenics. It's as weird as it is provocative, and possibly the most feminist statement that could be made in a movie starring Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell.
But for Lorelei, a swell in a man's pants should only mean one thing – a gift box, preferably from Cartier or Tiffany. Wealth makes a man attractive, but as she’s quick to point out, it’s not the only thing. She makes clear from the beginning that she only has eyes for Gus; he may be a millionaire in a sea of millionaires, but he’s the one she loves. His money - or more accurately, his father's - serves to ensure their happiness.
Throughout the film, it’s fun to watch Lorelei’s loving gaze toward Gus. Sure, she'll trade a squeeze for a tiara when (she thinks) no one's looking, but at no time do her eyes ever see another man. She's a one-millionaire woman.
And at no time does either woman let her best friend down, which may be the biggest reason why I love this movie. If I analyze any entertainment I really enthuse over, it will have a heart as genuine as Lorelei's when she says, “Dorothy’s the best and loyalest friend a girl ever had.”
That such loyalty is not taken for granted drives some of the film's most charming comedy. Lorelei may plumb the ship’s passenger list for wealth, but it's not for herself – it’s for her best friend’s future. Somebody needs to educate Dorothy to the finer points of financial security, Lorelei explains to Gus, and she feels it’s her duty to do so.
Dorothy is similarly charged. When Dorothy’s shipboard romancer makes a sideways comment about Lorelei, the brunette is quick to shut him down. “Let’s get this straight,” Dorothy bites. “Nobody talks about Lorelei but me.”
And when Lorelei is framed for larceny, Dorothy does everything she can – even going (absurdly) blonde – to keep her best friend out of jail.
At the end, after Lorelei delivers one of my favorite bits of wisdom from any movie (her angle, “Don’t you know that a man being rich is like a girl being pretty?” is bulletproof, at the very least for her), the self-described “two little girls from Little Rock” are seen floating down the aisle toward their grooms for a double-wedding, but the men seem incidental. The movie tightens its focus on Dorothy and Lorelei, their eyes hopeful and happy.
They may be headed for wedded bliss, but they also have the satisfaction of knowing that they're both going to be okay. For Dorothy, Lorelei and all of us watching, that's a happier ending than mere men or money, because ultimately we know that diamonds and dinner dates are a dime a dozen.
In Hollywood, as anywhere else, it's the friendships that really matter.
Mar 5, 2018
If my life were a movie (and I’m not convinced it isn’t), I’d be right in the middle of a “dissolve,” that blurry moment when one scene fades into another. I'm focusing on finding my next job but I’m busy with my current one, and compromising either way won't do me any favors. So it’s all about getting myself out there as efficiently as I can, as honestly as I can. I want that next scene to be great.
The trick is showing how eager you are without appearing too desperate.
In my experience (as I have no one else's to share), being professional is all about walking that area "in between." In a work situation -- especially a corporate work situation -- getting comfortable means "business casual." We want to be (here’s that worrrd) authentic, but we don't want to risk disapproval. We want to show initiative, but we don't want to make mistakes. And as much as pain and loved ones teach us that admitting vulnerability is a strength, it’s not a skill we highlight on our resumes. No interviewer has ever asked me about the last time I cried.
However. Who I am at work is a way more comfortable fit than who I am when I'm looking for work.
That’s the fuzziest part of this dissolve: where I'll be next. I've never known which ladder to climb, and I'm staving off a sense of shame about not setting my goals higher. I'm very good at what I do. Which is whatever's in front of me.
Years ago, I read books and listened to webinars and tried to Vayner-crush my way to success, but it didn't stick -- the same way I try to be a "morning person" every couple of years and it always lasts about four days, with the pre-dawn workouts giving way to the snooze button. What I'm sure I can do is share what I know, accentuate the positives and trust I’ll go where I’m needed.
We all want to be needed. Just don’t tell anyone.
Feb 13, 2018
I can't believe how good I look.
I only say that because sometimes in my head I’ll think I look good and then I’ll see myself in a mirror or a picture and suddenly realize I’m a weird little troll.
But these new pictures -- taken by my good friend Beth Dubber -- capture me looking appealing, approachable and radiant with reflected light. They’re how I want to look, all the time. I know I don’t look like them all the time, but I do look like them some of the time.
I'm not having any retouching done -- I know my eyes are permanently bloodshot, my teeth are a little yellowed and I have blotchy skin, but I'm not about loving a picture of myself that's been doctored. I love these pictures because they're me, on a good day, with great lighting. That's how I want to be remembered.
I needed new pictures because A) I want to get back into going on auditions – I never got far as an actor professionally but I’ve had many years of fun with it – and B) I’m losing my job of the past seven years. I have six weeks left on my contract and then that’s it. So I needed a work picture for LinkedIn and general professional use.
As I understand it (and as I reassure myself), being let go is all part of a company-wide restructuring that has nothing to do with me, but I still feel lost, sad and scared about it -- I am not a young man. I am telling myself that this frees me up to new opportunities and 'it's never too late' but it’s always in my nature to be both hopeful and terrified. That’s why I’m usually cheerful to the point of panic.
This morning I woke up asking my Dad for help. He’s been dead since 2003 but I woke up to hear myself saying out loud, “Dad. Daddy. Dad. I need help. I need your help. I need a job. I need to be successful at something. Please help me."
I kept at it for about ten minutes; thinking about him, trying to direct my thoughts toward his spirit, hoping he heard me. The picture with the glasses – I look a lot like him. As I get older I see more and more of him in my looks and that feels promising. I couldn’t look this much like him and not have a little bit of success in common, could I? Wouldn’t seem logical.
I’m now 51 years old, turning 52 in May. I’m not getting younger, but I am thinking about it a lot. About being younger and feeling bulletproof and not caring about tomorrow. Then I snap out of it to remember I’m 51 and facing a job search. That's not the most enviable position to be in, if you were to ask many people.
I got new pictures and want to get myself out there for everything. Regular work as well as creative things -- I start my intermediate voiceover classes next month, too. I see myself thriving but I also see myself losing everything. I'm what you call "pragmatic."
A psychic once told me I’d make a living with my voice, but a lot of people have told me that. When I was a teenager, I read a book about leveraging your speaking voice and it got me to learn how to sound calming and expressive whenever I'm called upon to read aloud. But as far as psychics go (I’m like this: I believe in a little bit of everything but never rely on anything) he’s apparently foreseen a lot of things that actually did happen.
Of course, he made that prediction about twenty-five years ago. Even if this comes true, when?
Ten years ago, I was 41. Twenty years ago, I was 31. Ten years from now, I’ll be 61. Twenty years from now, I’ll be 71.
Like Bette Davis said in ‘All About Eve’… “Those years stretch.”
May 16, 2016
I was born on May 16, 1966, which means today is my birthday, and I am 50 years old.
That's a long time, especially for someone who's never experienced it before. More than enough to form some fairly deep-seated ideas and opinions.
Here are 50 of mine:
- Don't tell me that "50 is the new 30" (or "the new 40" or "the new 20" or whatever). By doing so you are implying that an age, any age, has to suggest an earlier one in order to seem palatable. For me, 50 is the new 50. Because it's completely new to me.
- I'm not "50 years young," either. I'm 50 years OLD. I don't know why "old" has to be a bad word. If we can love old houses and old cars, then we can love old people; beginning with ourselves.
- Cosmetic surgery, Botox, fillers, etc... look weird. If you've reached a certain age and you don't have wrinkles, that is what looks weird to me. There is nothing natural about not aging.
- Upon hearing my views, people have come at with me with, "Well, if Botox or surgery make you feel good about yourself, then what's the harm?" Okay, here's the harm: It continues sending the message to the world that aging is a bad thing.
- Sorry, guys; dyed hair just doesn't work on men. Ever. It clashes with the tone and shade of (rightfully) aging skin. Yes, there's a double-standard, in that women can get away with coloring their hair, but men simply cannot. It always looks desperate.
- Why are you complaining that you got an AARP card application in the mail? Would you rather be dead? Dead without discounts?
- There's a beautiful sobriety in "acting one's age." Frankly, I find the ones who keep dancing on tabletops and showing off their "I've still got it!" moves irritating to be around.
- "Abercrombie & Fitch." Unnecessary at any age; painful after 30.
- I have no plans to give up gluten, meat or processed sugar at this time. Stop telling me to.
- I cannot, and will not, compliment a photo that has been photoshopped or somehow "tuned" to make the subject appear younger. Unless it's a painting, a portrait should look exactly like you.
- Get real. A (female) friend once used the "a lady never reveals her age" argument on me, and I really wished I was a woman just at that exact moment so I could reply with "a real woman doesn't have a problem with it" with the right amount of gravity. And I believe a real man doesn't, either. Any real person. Of any gender. Stop dressing up self-loathing as "etiquette." (And yes, as per my friend's admonishment, I 'don't know what it's like to be an aging woman in society.' But I do know this: aging gay men don't have it that easy, either. So I hear ya, sister.)
- Age isn't "just a number." If that were true, why does everything hurt? Give age its proper respect. Those years didn't just happen on a scoreboard. They happened to your body, your soul, your life.
- Music really was better when I was a kid.
- If you haven't experienced true love by now, that means you weren't meant to. But that can change, at any moment.
- I did drugs. So I get it. But I don't do them anymore, and I don't want to waste any more time being around them and their influence. So if you're high on anything, for "recreational" purposes (or, give me a break, weak-ass "it's-medicinal-I-have-anxiety" reasons), stay away. You don't need my company, and I don't need yours.
- The chances of my becoming a rock star have lessened considerably since I was fourteen. The tradeoff is, I have really great friends.
- But I still want to meet Deborah Harry.
- "Nice" wins. Nice wins over beauty, over money, over power. At the end of the day, I'd rather be around people who are nice over anything else.
- Eighty percent of the people pissing you off aren't doing it on purpose. So don't dwell on that. But the other 20 percent, yeah, they're awful. More on that later.
- You know what "sexy" is? Calm, polite confidence. That is sexy. Does it help to be physically attractive? Sure. But calm, polite confidence instantly raises anyone's sexiness level.
- I will never be happy with my body. But that doesn't mean I hate it.
- I have been rejected by some of the finest men in Los Angeles. But ultimately, I was accepted by the finest man in my universe. So. There's a lesson in there.
- Sweatpants are not clothing. They're exercise wear. Same for "yoga pants." I don't care how good you look in them.
- And unless you're Tina Turner, you can't wear a miniskirt past the age of 35.
- This overlaps with other stuff on this list, but I love grey hair. Grey hair and wrinkles and truly expressive faces... that is the beauty of real living.
- Some of my parts don't work like they used to, which has forced me to be resourceful and/or chemically assisted in certain areas. Fortunately, I don't need those parts as often as I did when I was younger.
- It's nice to look nice. I love seeing people dressed nicely when they're grocery shopping.
- Wash your goddamned car. Would you go out in public wearing dirty clothes? No. So why would you parade around in a dirty car? Be a grownup. Wash your goddamned car.
- I finally found God when I looked into my behavior. Not when I looked into a church.
- Take a cue from Pat Benatar. Stop using sex as a weapon.
- The only "Avengers" I care to acknowledge are Emma Peel and John Steed.
- I know, I know... you shouldn't judge people "unless you've walked a mile in their shoes" blah blah blah but you know what? At the end of the day, some people are just awful. They are awful and you have every right to avoid them.
- Learn to use a goddamned computer. And a smartphone. In the words of Bobcat Goldthwait, "This is how we do things now."
- See a doctor. At the very least, know how your body is doing. Then make your mind up as to how you're going to treat it.
- it's = it is; its = possessive
- Reading glasses are the greatest invention ever.
- Nobody doesn't like Sara Lee. If they say they do, they're lying.
- I would rather be at a coffee shop having a patty melt with friends than partying at any fancy nightclub in the world.
- Monogamy is a construct. There, I said it.
- True love requires being able to be happy for someone about things that have nothing to do with you.
- Wear clothes that fit. Doesn't matter what size you are, just make sure your clothes fit.
- A colonoscopy is the opposite of capital punishment. You get the meal you want after it happens.
- Don't freak out over being called "Sir" or "Ma'am" by someone younger. It was most likely meant to be respectful, and if you think you're still "young," you're most likely not.
- Oh, and by the way, you do look your age. Because whatever age you are, that's what you look like. And there's nothing wrong with that.
- In fact, I don't know how to respond when I do things like get a haircut or shave off my facial hair and people say, "Oh, you look XX years younger." I suppose that's a compliment, but I don't see "younger" as "better."
- Bring everything you can to the table. Including, when appropriate, your silence.
- If you say you "could care less," you're completely stepping all over your own point. That means you actually do care. The expression is "couldn't care less."
- There are a lot of great Woody Allen movies, but his three key works are: Annie Hall, Manhattan and Hannah and Her Sisters.
- Don't tell long stories unless you are at an actual podium and being paid and/or expected to do so. After a certain duration, every story ceases to be interesting, as well as every storyteller.
- Youth and aging are both temporary. Treasure each while you still can.
Nov 27, 2014
Please, God, give me the strength to act and speak from a place of love, no matter what social, religious, or political views are set before me by any family members, loved ones or guests who seem to think that the privilege of their opinions, no matter how baseless or unreasonable, resides in the province of our coincidentally mixed company. Oh, and I wouldn't mind my old hairline back. Amen.
Nov 1, 2014
For Halloween yesterday, I dressed up my first and only dog as the first film I ever saw in a theater -- 1969's Disney full-length live-action feature, "The Love Bug." A lot of felt, foam rubber and love went into this getup, and my little Ringo was a wonderfully cooperative model. xoxo
Oct 4, 2013
Not a lot of people know Choose Me, Alan Rudolph’s 1984 neon-noir ode to mistaken identity, lost love, regained love, mental illness, loneliness and emotional frailty. Well, that’s my take on it. It could be many different things to many different people, that is, if many different people were to see it. It's just not that kind of film. It's particular.
I saw it in 1984, and then I saw it again and again and again. It’s stylish and sleek, with a beautifully brittle Lesley Ann Warren clashing with frail and gravelly Genevieve Bujold over dangerously ambiguous Keith Carradine while nubile naïf Rae Dawn Chong recites bad poetry on the sidelines.
That’s the only way I know how to describe it, with a lot of adjectives, because the plot is so involved I can’t begin to detail it. The film itself I can describe: it’s a looker, and on top of that, it’s a looker you can feel.
The Teddy Pendergrass soundtrack gives what could have been a very icy character study its warmth and soul, and that provides a key to the film’s allure. It’s all “just enough.” Nothing beats you over the head. Ironic paintings on the wall are held in frame, long enough for you to take them in; the language in which people speak dances around what they mean to say, just like in old film noir.
“You have perfection about you,” Keith Carradine’s possibly insane Mickey says to Lesley Ann Warren’s definitely entranced Eve. Not “you’re perfect,” but “You have perfection about you.”
What could that mean? And who wouldn't want to hear it?
If only every character in the film were direct and honest -- about who they were, what they want and why they’re there -- maybe that would save them all a lot of trouble and bring them to the happy endings you want them to have.
But then there wouldn’t be a story, and that story wouldn’t be Choose Me.
Aug 9, 2013
Jul 11, 2013
May 7, 2013
From the circular files at the Oprah Winfrey Network...
1.) iyanla fix my CARBURETOR.
2.) iyanla fix my SCREENPLAY.
3.) iyanla fix my WATER HEATER.
4.) iyanla fix my HAIR.
5.) iyanla fix my CREDIT SCORE.
6.) iyanla fix my WI-FI CONNECTION.
7.) iyanla fix my GOLF SWING.