CMBA profiles one member every month. This month's interview is with Samantha Ellis who blogs at Musings of a Classic Film Addict. Sammatha attends as many film classes as he can and hopes one day have a degree.
What sparked your interest in classic film and was there anyone film that you remember being the one to change it all?
I guess you could say that my interest really started in the third grade. My music teacher showed us the “Make ‘Em Laugh” scene from Singin’ in the Rain and I had that “Aha!” moment like, “Wait, these movies were actually good?” I also watched Brigadoon and West Side Story in that class, both of which are still near and dear to my heart, but I ultimately shelved that interest until my middle and high school years, which were spent growing up in Palm Springs, CA with my grandmother. She was never particularly a classic movie fan, but she loves teaching the history of the town. It was where nearly all of the classic movie stars lived and mingled, so it was hard for her not to capture my interest when we would pass by a hotel and she’d say, “Oh, Ginger Rogers got married there”, when we’d drive down streets named after stars, or when we’d pass by Bob Hope’s gorgeous home, situated high on the top of a mountain. It was like a castle, and all the stars she would tell me about were kings and queens. Around that same time, I had a lot of health issues as well, which led to me staying home from school often. She didn’t allow me to use the internet on these days, but she would let me watch movies, so I started going through her classic movie VHS tapes and consuming the films of all the stars that she had told me about. The rest is history, and she still thinks I’m weird for enjoying movies that are older than she is, even though she’s largely responsible for it!
I understand you want to become a film historian, that’s great. Do you want to focus on a particular genre, decade, etc. or take a more overall approach?
I feel like my genre has chosen itself, really. My main area of interest lies with Hollywood stars from the 1930s through the 1960s, whether that’s an interest in their personal or professional lives. I always find myself fascinated by what a star wore or ate or accomplished, so naturally that’s what I gravitate towards: opening each of their worlds for myself and for others to see and step into. I still consider that a very broad area, especially when my own feelings about a star’s work factor into my reviews of their movies, so I guess you could say that’s taking an overall approach.
Is there a particular film genre that you favor?
When I’m asked this question, I usually use the blanket term of “Romance”, but it’s much deeper than that. I love movies with an unlikely romantic pairing that still manages to convince me why the two leads can and should make things work. For example, take my favorite film of all time, Jewel Robbery with William Powell and Kay Francis. These are two people from completely different worlds. The thief starts out by literally trying to rob this woman, who becomes interested in him just because she’s bored with her life. In an hour in eight minutes, their chemistry on top of the film’s expertly written dialogue perfectly convinces us that these two belong together. The same goes with the Astaire and Rogers movies. In most of them, Ginger’s character loathes Fred’s at first. While some of her distaste in these movies is due to harmless coincidences, Fred literally costs Ginger her job in Follow the Fleet, right in the middle of the Depression. It should be tragic, but somehow it’s not, and it’s still so satisfying when they work out their differences and find their way to each other by the end of the picture. To me, that’s nothing short of movie magic.
Would you tell what some of your favorite films are and a few films considered classic that you absolutely hate?
Asking me to choose my favorites is next to impossible, but I’ll give it a shot! Aside from the films I’ve already mentioned, I couldn’t begin a list of favorite films without including my favorite film from my favorite actor, Tyrone Power: Love is News. I’m also incredibly fond of Cover Girl, My Man Godfrey, High Society, Come Live with Me, and Rebecca, to name a few. It takes a lot for me to absolutely hate anything. In fact, I can’t really recall any movies that I absolutely hate off the top of my head. I don’t enjoy making generalizations based on a star, but I just cannot stand Bette Davis or her films, so I avoid them like the plague on my blog and beyond (shameful, I know!). As far as specific films go, I really disliked Sunset Blvd. at first, which is saying a lot because Billy Wilder is probably my favorite director. The whole relationship between Joe and Norma came off as incredibly awkward to me, not to mention strange. I gave it another try at this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival, and since that initial weirdness had faded, I enjoyed it a lot more.
What do you hope your followers visiting your blog leave with, and what do you find most rewarding about blogging?
My real hope is that someone who leaves my blog feels compelled to learn about a film or a star that I’ve discussed. There are so many people and blogs who allowed me to discover some of the movies and performers who are closest to my heart today, so if I end up doing the same for someone else, I consider my work done. There are so many aspects of blogging that I find rewarding, but being able to reflect on my work and my own classic movie journey is something that I’ll always be grateful for. I find it astounding when I look back and realize how much work my writing needed or when I find a review of a new-to-me movie that’s since become one that I treasure. More than that, it’s so incredible when I attend classic movie events and get recognized for my work, especially by people I also admire in return. When someone tells me that they’ve tried one of the recipes I’ve made or watched a film because of my review, that’s the best feeling in the world.
What movies would you recommend to someone who “hates” classic films?
My philosophy is that there’s a classic film out there for everyone. If you think you hate classic movies, but you like Michael Bay flicks with tons of explosions and action, check out something like Captain Blood or The Longest Day. If you have a kid who thinks black-and-white movies are the worst, have them try something like The General or the color version of The Little Princess. If you think binging on Law & Order is better than watching something made over fifty years ago, movies like Witness for the Prosecution, 12 Angry Men, and Anatomy of a Murder will be your cup of tea. If we’re speaking in a more general sense, I would say that if you don’t enjoy (or at least appreciate) Singin’ in the Rain or The Apartment, classic movies might not be for you.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of film blogs these days. What makes your blog unique?
I feel like I dive deeper than some other blogs might, really bringing out a magnifying glass and examining what makes a particular film or star so great both in their own time and today, adding cultural context whenever I can. When I review a movie, I’ll tell my readers what it’s about (usually without spoilers), share some interesting trivia, and share my thoughts and feelings about it, all in one post. I also choose the subjects of my posts very carefully, making sure that my review topic is a movie or a person who I feel doesn’t get enough buzz from the rest of the classic film community. I’ll stand on my soapbox for stars like Tyrone Power, Luise Rainer, and Mary Carlisle any day of the week, because I know that few other blogs will do the same and because I know that their stories need to be shared with the world in order to preserve their legacies. I admit that I also have my specific decades that I focus on and try my best not to deviate from, unlike other film blogs who I follow for classic film content who soon become distracted by the next big thing and throw in modern movies and people into the mix. I simply write about topics that I would want to read about, and that’s classic movies and stars 100% of the time.
Do you have interest in other pop culture arts?
Honestly, my interest in classic film basically overtakes my interest in anything else, but I do my best to keep up with current pop culture. I listen to the latest Top 40 music, and my sister and I have an ongoing competition to see who learns about the latest entertainment headlines first. I also have a recent fascination with death and true crime, which I’ve found a way to tie in with classic film in a number of ways. For one thing, I always make a point to visit a different cemetery whenever I’m in LA, and I’ve been working to mark the graves of classic movie stars for over a year, which I honestly consider my proudest achievement as a classic film fan and an aspiring film historian. Nothing preserves the memory of a person in the entertainment industry than having a plaque that immortalizes that person’s life. It gives fans a place to visit and appreciate that person rather than just a patch of grass that people would pass by without thinking.