Sometimes It Is People
Serious film nuts are out there. I get mail from waves of them every day as I run in the dark, stepping on feet with my comments.
There seem to be two kinds of zealots: those attached to genres and archetypes and those attached to specific people, actors and directors.
I usually blow off the email about actors. Usually actors don’t have much to do with the movies they are in, and when they do it is because they coordinate their intent with that of the filmmaker. And except for a short list, most actors — like their brethren politicians — are just dull, empty delivery people.
But I feel differently about actors in the 30s and 40s… some of them. Those of interest just happened to be there when movies settled down after the great confusions: sound, colour, the code, and the great quest to define itself.
If you want to understand your imagination, you need to follow the groves in film. And to do that you need to see the family tree of genres, and that is only found in 30s and 40s films. The genres, naturally enough, co-evolved with certain film archetypes, and most of those were invented by actors.
Some of these actors are forgotten while their character type remains: Edna May Oliver. Some have become icons themselves, like Jimmy Stewart. Lucille Ball is worth following.
Any of these icons is worth seeing in their early work when they play characters who are actors. In this case, Lucille is an actress trying to establish an identity (which she did eventually and wonderfully) playing an actress doing the same thing. Oakie plays all the dumb jokes, so is usually that attention-getter in the Annabel films.
But take a look at this woman. She said she wasn’t funny but brave. You can see that. You can also see that she invented her walk after losing that ability because of sickness. And you can already see how she engineers her fake eyebrows after losing those. Her face isn’t a funny one, but she makes it so with her mouth and eyes and those eyes are inherently comic, but painted on.
You can also see her — or rather her character — working out how to pair with the type that became Ethyl Merman.
This was in the day when she was a brunette.
Posted in 2005
Ted’s Evaluation — 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.