Each month, the CMBA profiles a classic movie blog. For October, we’re featuring Beth Nevarez, Lora Stocker, and Lynell Seabold of the Ava Gardner Museum Official Blog. All three work for the Ava Gardner Museum in Smithfield, North Carolina, and write for its official blog.
CMBA: What makes a film a “classic” in your opinion?
AVA GARDNER MUSEUM Official Blog: A “classic” film is often defined as one that has stood the test of time—retaining popular and, perhaps even, critical appeal from its initial release to modern day. At the Ava Gardner Museum, we tend to take an expansive view of the term “classic”—understanding that tastes and opinions change and films resonate with different people based on personal experience, culture, interests, etc. We believe “classic” film should not be stagnant and finite. The term is dynamic and fluid, evolving as viewers evolve.
Over her five-decade career in the entertainment industry, Ava Gardner amassed a broad résumé that spanned nearly every genre—along the way working on productions with small-to-large budgets and with some of Hollywood’s leading directors. Some of her movies might have received mixed or even poor receptions upon their initial release, only to later be rediscovered and reevaluated by more contemporary reviewers and audiences.
CMBA: Why should people care about “old” black and white movies, and about Ava Gardner's films, in particular?
AVA GARDNER MUSEUM Official Blog: Films are a window into the eras in which they were made. They can enable us to explore the best aspects and the more challenging elements of the past. One can learn a great deal about a time period’s cultural trends, current events, societal concerns, fashions, and more, by watching a motion picture.
We are fortunate today to be able to view Ava Gardner’s career in totality. We can watch her develop from a young ingenue—appearing in small, bit parts in an assortment of MGM films—to a seasoned actor—starring in compelling lead roles and impactful character parts. Viewers can witness Ava become more comfortable on screen over time—finding confidence in her own unique voice and captivating screen presence. Because her filmography is so diverse, there’s also an Ava film for almost anyone—whether you like epics, horror, musicals, romance, or westerns. By watching her films, you can see why Ava has never lost her relevance and why her work continues to be influential today.
CMBA: What classic films do you recommend to people who may not have seen many older films?
AVA GARDNER MUSEUM Official Blog: Inspired by Ava Gardner’s wide-ranging career, we would recommend that someone new to older films take a “sampling” approach by watching films from a mix of genres. Start with some universally beloved films like: The Kid (1921), The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926), Dodsworth (1936), The Wizard of Oz (1939), Rebecca (1940), Gaslight (1944), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), Red River (1948), All About Eve (1950), , Forbidden Planet (1956), Twelve Angry Men (1957), Pillow Talk (1959), ,
CMBA: Which of Ava Gardner's films would you recommend to people who don't know a lot about her film career?
AVA GARDNER MUSEUM Official Blog: If you want to get a full breadth of Ava Gardner’s filmography, we recommend you watch the following films:
· The Killers (1946): Ava’s electrifying performance as Kitty Collins in this classic film noir was her breakout role, setting her on the path to international stardom. The film was the first of three movies she made based on the works of Ernest Hemingway.
· Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951): Ava starred opposite James Mason as the beautiful and enigmatic Pandora Reynolds in this surreal, romantic fantasy. This film marked Ava’s first starring role in a Technicolor production and her first time working with master cinematographer Jack Cardiff. While filming Pandora, Ava fell in love with Spain, and she would eventually move there in 1955.
· Mogambo (1953): Ava received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for the role of Eloise “Honey Bear” Kelly. This film marked Ava’s third appearance with Clark Gable and her only role opposite Grace Kelly. Ava and Grace became instant friends on this production and remained close the remainder of their lives.
· The Barefoot Contessa (1954): Film audiences most identify Ava with the character of Maria Vargas, and, to this day, it is considered her signature role. The film’s tagline, “The World’s Most Beautiful Animal,” became a designation that would haunt Ava for the rest of her life.
· On the Beach (1959): Ava’s studio contract with MGM ended in 1958. On the Beach was the first movie Ava made as an independent star. The film was also her last on-screen pairing with her favorite co-star and close personal friend, Gregory Peck.
· The Night of the Iguana (1964): Ava’s role as Maxine Faulk proved that she could take on a dramatic character and make it entirely her own. The production gave her the opportunity to work with her favorite director, John Huston. For her performance, Ava was nominated for Best Foreign Actress at the BAFTA Awards and Best Actress at the Golden Globes. She won Best Actress at the San Sebastián International Film Festival.
· Earthquake (1974): Made during the height of the “all-star” disaster film craze of the 1970s, Earthquake was Ava’s highest grossing film at the box office and was an international hit with audiences. The movie featured innovative special effects and sound effects. It was nominated for four Academy Awards, winning in the Best Sound category and receiving a Special Award for Achievement in Special Effects.
CMBA: What is the most rewarding thing about blogging for you?
AVA GARDNER MUSEUM Official Blog: We enjoy discussing and exploring topics that we are passionate about, like Ava Gardner's world away from Hollywood, her long-lasting legacy, and how her films fit into a larger historical context. We find it most rewarding when we receive feedback from a reader or Ava fan who connected with something we wrote, learned something new, or otherwise enjoyed our blog post. The process of blogging in itself though is also rewarding—the research and preparation that goes into each article always teaches us something new about the subject at hand, so even if no one else was to read it, we are always glad we put in the effort to learn more about Ava’s life.
The Ava Gardner Museum blog is very unique in that we are able to share items from the Museum’s vast collection of artifacts and archives. We love incorporating our collection into our storytelling. This ability helps readers better visualize the history we are interpreting. Also, our readers are able to connect with Ava more directly on a personal level, through items she once owned or materials related to her films.