CMBA profiles one member every month. This month's interview is with Jesse Ilse of https://boxofficepoisons.blogspot.com
You say on your blog that you began watching classic movies in high school and your first exposure was through Breakfast At Tiffany’s. What do you love most about the film?
I think at this point, I’ve seen it so much that it’s comfort at this point to pop it in and watch it (whether I’m feeling the blues or the mean reds). It’s far from a perfect film and has its share of problematic moments (or a problematic character, to be more exact), but I enjoy how it all comes together in the end: Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard are great together; Patricia Neal and Buddy Ebsen in supporting roles also add importance to the storyline; the setting of early ‘60s New York City; Henry Mancini’s iconic music; the Givenchy wardrobe… I could go on and on!
You begin your blog with the opening lines from Sabrina (1954), and Audrey Hepburn is one of your favourite actresses. What is it about her acting style and body of work that you most enjoy?
I love how instinctual her acting style was. She wasn’t someone who spent years training at a dramatic academy to hone her craft; she relied on herself and her emotions. Plus, she had grit. In the course of three years she went from a chorus girl in London who appeared in bit parts in European films to the toast of Hollywood and Broadway, winning an Oscar and a Tony in the same week. And she never rested on her laurels, she continued to push herself.
She tried just about every genre of film: drama, comedy, romance, western, epic, musical, mystery, thriller. Some movies were more successful than others, but she left an indelible mark on Hollywood that we still talk about to this day.
If you were to recommend five classic films to a first timer, which five would you recommend and why?
It Happened One Night: This is the screwball comedy to me, and it basically created the romantic comedy genre to the point that you can trace a lot of the films that have followed it back to the essentials laid out by It Happened One Night.
The Sound of Music: There are a lot of important musicals from the mid-century era, but I think The Sound of Music has made such a cultural impact that it can’t be ignored.
It’s a Wonderful Life: It has a wonderful message behind it (that no man is a failure who has friends regardless of how rich or poor they are) and it’s the quintessential Christmas movie in my house.
The Women: There’s not a man to be found in this film, which I think goes to show the sheer talent of the actresses who were cast in the movie. Plus, George Cukor was a master at directing actresses and you can see that on full display.
Pillow Talk: It’s fun. Pure, unadulterated fun, and it basically invented the mid-century ‘sex comedy’ genre; plus, you can’t go wrong with Doris Day and Rock Hudson paired up.
Why should people care about “old” black and white movies?
I think that movies are snapshots of their time periods and in some cases reflect society. You can trace our progress from the wild pre-code era through to the dismantling of the studio system and into more independent producing that we currently have. These old black and white movies speak to who we were at any given moment.
Who are your favourite filmmakers?
Billy Wilder, Frank Capra, Douglas Sirk, Bob Fosse, Howard Hawks.
In the modern era, Greta Gerwig tops the list for me. I’ll watch every single movie she makes.
What do you think of modern cinema?
It’s funny, because a lot of my favourite modern films are set in the past, so I guess I can’t escape it. But I love how diverse storytellers are coming to the forefront, and new actors and actresses are being given chances whereas they probably never would’ve gotten a shot in the older days of Hollywood.
I’m not a fan of how a lot of movies nowadays are sequels or part of a series or cinematic universes, but I’m also a bit of a hypocrite on that front because I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe and I’ll probably see Wonder Woman 84 a few times in theatres.
If you could recommend one film from each of your favourite actors that you’ve listed on your blog, which film each would it be?
Oh boy, this was a hard one! I failed choosing one for Ginger Rogers, if only because I wanted to highlight how she was more than just Fred Astaire’s dance partner.
Audrey Hepburn – Roman Holiday
Doris Day – Pillow Talk
Ginger Rogers – Kitty Foyle will show you why Ginger was so much more than the song-and-dance partner of Fred Astaire (she won an Oscar for this film); but Vivacious Lady, Bachelor Mother or The Major and the Minor will show you her comedic chops.
Esther Williams – Bathing Beauty
Grace Kelly – The Country Girl (I’m probably alone in my opinion that she was right to win the Oscar over Judy Garland that year)
You’ve seen every film on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies list, and are working your way through the 100 Years… 100 Passions list. Which other list of theirs would you like to tackle next?
I’d like to do the 100 Years… 100 Laughs list next. It’s been a long and sad year; it’d be nice to have more reasons to laugh.