Sunday, July 31, 2016

CMBA Blog Profile: Silver Screen Modes

The CMBA profiles two classic movie blogs per month, on the 1st and the 15th. Today we're celebrating Christian from Silver Screen Modes.

Author and researcher Christian Esquevin has an infectious passion for classic film costume design.

His blog, Silver Screen Modes, presents a thoughtful, fascinating look at Hollywood costume designers and the design process. He's also the author of Adrian: Silver Screen to Custom Label.

But his interests include more than costume design. He has a true appreciation for film itself, including films that are lesser known or are not widely appreciated, such as Michelangelo Antonioni's Blowup (1966).
"The film is not everyone’s cup of tea, but part of the problem is that many people say they don’t understand it," says Christian. "[I want] to explicate the movie to others, or at least to point out that it does not follow a plot that has a neat resolution at the end. It also has a lead character that is not particularly nice to women, but he’s not nice to men, either, and that’s the story/character showing his alienation. On the other hand, it has tremendous vitality and shows swinging London in the 1960s. It’s a mystery where the answer dissolves the closer you look at it – much like life, really. I saw it in the theater in France when it first came out, and it left an indelible impression on my youth."

You can read Christian's review of Blowup HERE.

CMBA: What sparked your interest in classic film?
Silver Screen Modes: My father was a big movie buff and took us to see the new releases (now classics) when I was a kid. My great-aunt had worked as the head cutter-fitter in wardrobe at the RKO studios in the 1930s, and previously at other studios. She fitted Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Lucille Ball, Barbara Stanwyck, Ann Miller, Maureen O’Hara, and others for their costumes. But it wasn’t until they had gone that I developed a passion for classic film and began researching the background of their making and especially the art of costume design and the designers that worked during the Golden Age of Hollywood.
The RKO Wardrobe Department in the 1930s

CMBA: What makes a film a "classic" in your opinion?
Silver Screen Modes: It takes the passing of some time certainly. And that’s because the opinions of viewers have to go through a maturing process and the stages of a film’s quality changes over time. It never fails to happen that polls of the top 25 or 100 “Best Films” are always skewed toward the newer films. Take the poll again in ten years and most of those newer films will be gone, and a fresh batch will have replaced them. The “classics” are the films that remain. Those classics will have been on umpteen lists including lists of the “classics”. Everyone has different favorite classics, and we in CMBA have a very broad and diverse list. Thankfully our viewing is not just restricted to that small spectrum of human endeavor the studios are now producing. 
CMBA: What classic film(s) do you recommend to people who say they hate old movies?
Silver Screen Modes: That might depend on the age and sex of the person, but generally I would recommend The Magnificent Seven and The Killers (with Burt Lancaster) for young men. Double Indemnity and Vertigo would be other titles with some cross-over appeal, but these have no happy ending. And for women I would recommend Roman Holiday and Holiday (with Katharine Hepburn).

CMBA: Why should people care about classic film?
Silver Screen Modes: Classic films were largely produced when character and story were more important than special effects or computer generated images. People talked, there was dialogue (or they had faces). Not that CGI can’t be an important part of the movie, but today it overwhelms human character to the point that only people with super powers seem to flourish, and then they go on to make sequels as often as super bowls. Classics include comedies and romances, and romantic comedies, not to mention westerns and musicals. These genres are virtually extinct today.

Tyrone Power & Loretta Young in Love is News

CMBA: What is the most rewarding thing about blogging? 
Silver Screen Modes: Blogging is a way to share one’s love of the movies we write about, or for me the costumes and how they define character and how the designer had to go about the process of designing them and getting those costumes on the actors and on the screen. My fascination is always with what goes on behind the screen. We watch the movie and get wrapped up in the story (if it’s a successful movie). Even as bloggers we may concentrate on an actor or director. But it’s the whole process and the teamwork that makes such an interesting story, especially during the studio system. But the talent was equally with the craft people – the set designers and costume fabricators and make-up artists and many others. The screenwriter or lead actor or director may have failed to turn out a good movie, but the studio system craft people never failed to do their best. It’s writing about part of that process that interests me. And all the dynamics and interplay of the personalities and studio politics. 

CMBA: What challenges do you face with your blog, and how do you overcome them?
Silver Screen Modes: When I first started blogging in late 2009 I thought, how was I ever going to come up with enough ideas to keep going? Well the ideas kept coming. The challenge is finding time to keep the posts going. For my posts finding the images takes as much time as writing, and the research for the images and text is very time-consuming. I know this is the same for all of us. I work at it in chunks. Since I have a full-time job, this is often done at night, I often think I should have called my blog The Midnight Blogger.
CMBA: What advice would you give to a new blogger?
Silver Screen Modes: Write about your passion. The typical advice in writing is write what you know – but you can learn as you go. If you have the drive based on passion you can keep going in the absence of much (or any) reward. But you owe it to your audience to know more than they do (most of them) on the topic of your blog post, or else why should they read it? Folks have limited time and they don’t spend a lot of it reading. Make it informative and fun.
Thank you for joining us, Christian! You can visit his blog by clicking HERE.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

CMBA Blogger Profile: Strictly Vintage Hollywood

The CMBA profiles two classic movie blogs per month, on the 1st and 15th. Today we're toasting Donna from Strictly Vintage Hollywood.

Donna at Strictly Vintage Hollywood has a thing for Rudolph Valentino.

But let's face it: who doesn't?

Not only does she curate a well-researched blog, she's written a book on Valentino, entitled Rudolph Valentino The Silent Idol: His Life in Photographs. She's now hard at work on a second book, tentatively titled The Films of Rudolph Valentino - A Chronological History.

"I have collected and studied Valentino for decades," says Donna. "I am still researching and learning; enjoying the process of research that I hope will result in an entertaining second book, my magnum opus on Valentino."

You can read more about Valentino, and his unique friendship with screenwriter June Mathis, HERE.

CMBA: What sparked your interest in classic film? 
Strictly Vintage Hollywood: I like to say I was born loving movies. My parents instilled in me the love of what are now referred to as classic films because we shared going to movies when I was a child; both at the Drive-In (how I miss that, Disney films in my jammies) and going to see first run films at Century 21 Dome (dressing up in our Sunday best the process). We also shared time watching classics such as The Wizard of Oz and Portrait of Jennie on television. For my parents, these were the films of their generation and they became mine. 

I also learned to love classic films by seeing them on television, late night television such as TV 36 in San Jose and KBHK where classics from 20th Century Fox, MGM, RKO, Paramount and Warner Brothers were on regular rotation. Once I got my library card and discovered the film history section, a whole new world opened up for me with film bios and film history.
Once I could drive, I became a loyal patron twice weekly at my local revival movie house (The Vitaphone). There I experienced familiar favorites, except they were Three Strip Technicolor prints newly struck from the camera negative. To seem them on the big screen changed my life. Films on television never looked like this!  Gob smacked is a good word to describe the feeling. For a film geek, it’s like a drug.
Getting to know the owners, working at the theater over a summer and learning how to run the large 35mm projectors; that was a thrill. It was also a thrill to stand in the back of the theater and watch the chariot race from the 1959 Ben-Hur six nights in a row. To see Random Harvest, a pristine new print, so clear you felt you could walk into it. The Garden of Allah, Dietrich and Boyer, impossible silly romance, in glorious Technicolor.

CMBA: What makes a film a "classic" in your opinion?
Strictly Vintage Hollywood: Literally, to me a classic film is anything from 1900 to about 1965, the dawn of film to the end of the studio era in Hollywood. This would include foreign films, too. To me, a classic does not even really have to have the best script or acting. It is a film that stands the test of time and repeated viewings. 
CMBA: What classic film(s) do you recommend to people who say they hate old movies?
Strictly Vintage Hollywood: John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon, Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly’s Singin’ in the Rain, just about any Laurel & Hardy film and the same for Buster Keaton, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Now Voyager, The Heiress, The Mark of Zorro (silent and talkie versions), The Son of the Sheik, North by Northwest, Rear Window, and Sunrise. (I could name a dozen more!) It is inconceivable to me that someone could actually say they “hate” old films. For those that do, I can only imagine that they have not really seen any. So many genres, gangster, musicals, comedies, drama, women’s pictures, adventure films, romance, sci-fi, you name it, there really is something for everyone if they could be introduced to seeing a film as it was meant to be seen, i.e. on the big screen. At the very least, on television without commercials, like TCM.

CMBA: Why should people care about classic film?
Strictly Vintage Hollywood: In today’s world of instant news, the 24-hour news cycle and endless tweets and Facebook posts, sometimes I think people need to care about classic films as a way to let go, lose themselves and enjoy 90 minutes (or two hours) of solid entertainment. Any classic film is a reflection of the era in which it was produced, but, the bottom line is all are human stories. They can touch you, empower you and make you feel great just when the real world has got you down. In other words because they are so very entertaining.
Why should they care about preserving them? Cinema is the most American of art forms. Film can be a snapshot of the period. Once lost, they likely remain so and a part of our history is gone forever, except stills and lobby art. Can you imagine a world without Gone with the Wind or The Wizard of Oz?

CMBA: What is the most rewarding thing about blogging?
Strictly Vintage Hollywood: The best thing I have found in blogging and writing about film is the people I have met. I mean, I follow several blogs and I love to read other viewpoints and learn about films I have not yet seen. I enjoy writing, and blogging is a tool for me to improve my writing and to share about films I love. If I get one comment telling me they’ve loved a film I’ve written about, that’s the best icing on any cake, metaphorically speaking. This takes me back to seeing films with my parents. Blogging and classic film is a shared experience, and it’s wonderful. I’ve met some of my best friends this way.

CMBA: What challenges do you face with your blog, and how do you overcome them?
Strictly Vintage Hollywood: The biggest challenge is finding time, and trying to be regular in posting. A challenge especially now as I am researching and writing a manuscript. I am trying to be proactive this year and get in the habit of a weekly post, even a small one. For the manuscript, I'm taking inspiration from my friend over at Backlots, Lara, to write something every day on the manuscript no matter how small.
CMBA: What advice would you give to a new blogger?
Strictly Vintage Hollywood: Write about what you love. That, to me, is the biggest motivation. Be receptive to constructive criticism and ignore the trolls. 

 Thank you for joining us, Donna! You can visit her blog by clicking HERE.