Thursday, February 26, 2009
PARIS, JE T'AIME is an incandescent portrait of the City of Lights. Comprising eighteen short films which average a mere eight minutes each, this cinematic omnibus is a highly entertaining, loving tour through eighteen separate and distinct Parisian quarters as seen through the unique stylistic vision of twenty renowned directors. (Two of the films were co-directed.)
Producers Emmanuel Benbihy and Claudie Ossard are to be congratulated for undertaking such an ambitious project. With a stellar cast that includes Marianne Faithful, Bob Hoskins, Miranda Richardson, Juliette Binoche, Willem Dafoe, Nick Nolte, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Elijah Wood, among many, many more, each segment is markedly unique although the one common theme is that each of these vivid, kaleidoscopic views portrays someone who is either in love in Paris or in love with Paris -- arguably the most romantic city in the world -- Bulverde, Texas notwithstanding.
One of the highlights is TUILERIES, co-directed by the Cohen Brothers, starring Steve Buscemi as a typically clueless American tourist who unintentionally captures the attention of a young woman in the bowels of the Paris subway system, much to the chagrin of her paranoid lover.
Another highlight for this reviewer was TOUR EIFFEL, a charming, almost giddy tale of mimes in love directed by Sylvain Chomet (two-time Oscar winner for animation). To find myself thoroughly enjoying this particular valentine is a testament to Chomet's talented directing skills as I generally find anything to do with mimes to be as irritating as Topo Gigio or Sean Hannity.
Perhaps the most unusual segment is QUARTIER DE LA MADELEINE, a stylish pop-art vampire romp that may seem out of place among the other films, but Hell's bells, vampires need love, too. And the beauty of a short film anthology is that if one of the films doesn't appeal to you personally, it is only a matter of minutes before another totally different story unfolds on the screen. Hey, who doesn't like a "quickie?"
Of course, every pu pu platter has that one delicious morsel that trumps all the other offerings, and in my opinion 14TH ARRONDISSEMENT is not only the last segment, it is the most enchanting. Alexander Payne (SIDEWAYS, ABOUT SCHMIDT) begins his story as a humorous look at an unsophisticated, frumpy, dumpy American tourist, played by Margo Martindale (Ma Cox in WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY, along with over sixty other credits) which subtly transforms into something totally different, concluding on a poignant, surprising, wistful note. Just like puffing on a Gauloises after a "nooner," this is the perfect way to end this wonderful collection of cinematic quickies.
Friday, February 20, 2009
As some of you know, I was born and raised in central Texas. In the mid-1960s, my little hometown decided to erect new highway signs at the city limits on all roads to New Braunfels. These decorative and expensive signs were adorned by a little grandfatherly cartoon Kraut in lederhosen who, as I recall, was smoking a pipe. This full-color image of a German "Opa" was designed to coincide with the heritage of German settlers who chose this area because the moss on the trees reminded them of sauerkraut and the crystal clear waters of the Comal River (often referred to as "The Shortest River In The World") provided cool refreshment and sustenance from the hot Texas sun.
Of course, these darling city limits signs were immediately stolen by misguided miscreants as soon as they were replaced, and so several years later both the City Council and the Chamber of Commerce surrendered and the signs no longer marked the entrance to this charming village with a cenral plaza that Norman Rockwall would have loved and with a high school whose unique mascot was the Unicorn. Make that a "Fightin' Unicorn."
Surprisingly, the fine students at NBHS never took to adopting a one-digit, graphic hand gesture as a symbol of Unicorn pride. After all, the University of Texas is just 70 miles up the interstate where the beloved "Hook 'em Horns" sign is embraced by Bevo and Longhorn fans worldwide. Seems like "shooting the finger" would provide a little festive phalange fun for New Braunfels High School students and alumni alike. Then again, descendants from the Fatherland aren't known for their sense of humor.
But I digress.
In case you haven't already done so, take a close look at the map above. When you do, you'll find a small village with a most unusual name. Austria is known for its strudel, hills that are filled with the sound of music, and being the birthplace of that charming little fellow named Adolph Hitler. Step aside Pennsylvania -- you may have Blue Balls and Intercourse, but Austria has you topped.
Welcome to Fucking.
I wonder what Lenny Bruce would think. I wonder what George Carlin would say. I'm wondering what Paris Hilton will do when she learns about this place.
Lots of other thoughts cross my mind. For example, I wonder what the Fucking High School's sports teams are named. Let's see -- charming Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts calls their team the "Ephs." (I don't know why.) Yep, the Fucking Ephs (or even the Fucking A's -- as in Oakland) might work, but I kinda think that the Athletic Director at Fucking High School may have looked elsewhere, perhaps all the way to L.A., and thus he may have selected the name "Trojans." For Pete's sake, I hope he did.
No matter what the village is like or what their high school teams call themselves, not all is idyllic. As the following newspaper article clearly describes, there seems to be a bit of a crime problem:
It is obvious that Chief Kommandant Schmidtberger believes this is a major problem, but on the other hand this could actually become a public relations bonanza. And so I think back to my home town of New Braunfels which once experienced a similar "problem." My suggestion would be for the Fucking City Council and the Fucking Chamber of Commerce to go ahead and embellish their signs by adding a little grandfatherly cartoon Kraut in lederhosen. But instead of holding a pipe, I think this "Opa" should be giving the hand gesture for the "Fightin' Unicorns" instead.
No -- I don't expect this will stop thieves from stealing the signs, quite the contrary. I'm certain misguided miscreants, English and otherwise, would steal them at even a faster clip. But the attendant publicity would be enormous and I'm betting that college students worldwide would quickly discover a brand new place to go to do you know what...
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
"With a head like a giant peanut, vast mascara'd eyes, too-kissable lips, baby-doll voice, flattened marcelled hair, and mere threads of a dress exposing miles of hot flesh, she was the perfect celluloid sex toy."
I don't know about the "giant peanut" head, but there's no denying that Betty Boop is one hot mama. In fact, the Intergalactic World Headquarters for Needtovent has three (yes, count 'em -- 3) framed Betty Boops adorning the walls. Originally created by Fleischer Studios animator Grim Natwick as a canine side-kick for a cartoon dog named Bimbo, Betty morphed into the sexy gal we all know and love today in "Betty Co-Ed," the first of over one hundred Boop cartoons that followed. The year was 1932, and with a figure modeled after Mae West and a singing style "borrowed" from Helen Kane, she became the most alluring cartoon Betty of them all. (Admittedly Betty Rubble was pretty hot as well...certainly more enticing than Wilma Flintstone when you stop and think about it).
But what do you know about the real-life Betty?
As previously mentioned, her name was Helen Kane. Born August 4, 1904, Ms. Kane was a popular American singer, best known for her "Boop-Boop-a-Doop" trademark and her signature song, "I Wanna Be Loved By You".
It has been reported that Kane's mother reluctantly paid $3.00 for her daughter's costume as a queen in Kane's first theatrical role at school. This meager expense proved to be a wise investment; Helen went on to perform professionally onstage with the Marx Brothers not too long after she reached her fifteenth birthday.
As she took on the status of a singing sensation there were Helen Kane dolls and Helen Kane look-alike contests, appearances on radio and in nightclubs in addition to her continuing to tour the Orpheum Circuit. By late 1928 and early 1929 she had a huge cult following. With the advent of the Betty Boop cartoons, however, Helen began to feel her celebrity status was being infringed upon and she sued Paramount Studios and Max Fleischer charging "unfair competition and wrongful appropriation." Unfortunately, she lost this $250,000 lawsuit, and although she continued to perform, her popularity was never the same. Ms. Kane died September 26, 1966.
"I Wanna Be Loved By You"
You are Ms. Boop and Ms. Kane -- we at Needtovent love everything about you both.
(Come to think about it, we love peanuts also...)
Monday, February 2, 2009
Needtovent is pleased to announce a new series which we will simply call FASCINATING WOMEN OF THE PAST. Our first installment concerns the young actress who became a symbol of failure and tragedy -- Hollywood Style.
Meet Peg Entwistle...
On Friday, September 16, 1932, Ms. Entwistle jumped to her death from the "H" of the famous Hollywood sign (which then read "Hollywoodland"). Her body lay in the 100-foot ravine below until it was found two days later. Acting on an anonymous tip, a detective and two radio car officers found the body of a blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman who was moderately well-dressed. She remained unidentified for over two days until her uncle saw a newspaper article which provided a description of the event including a reprint of the suicide note that was simply signed with the initials "P.E."
After identifying her body, Harold Entwistle filled in some of the blanks for authorities and the press. Apparently Entwistle was upset at not being able to impress the studios, and she told her uncle that she was going to walk to a nearby drugstore and then visit friends. Instead, she made her way up the southern slope of Mount Lee, near her uncle's home, to the foot of the Hollywoodland sign. After placing her coat, shoes and purse containing the suicide note at the base of the sign, she made her way up a workman's ladder to the top of the "H". The cause of death was listed by the coroner as "multiple fractures of the pelvis."
Peg Entwistle's suicide note read:
"I am afraid, I am a coward. I am sorry for everything. If I had done this a long time ago, it would have saved a lot of pain. P.E."
Ironically, several days later Entwistle's uncle opened a letter addressed to her from the Beverly Hills Playhouse; it was mailed the day before she jumped. In it was an offer for her to play the lead role in a stage production in which her character would commit suicide in the final act.
But that's not the end of the story.
In the years following Peg's suicide, hikers and park rangers in Griffith Park have reported some pretty strange happenings in the vicinity of the Hollywood sign. Many have reported sightings of a woman dressed in 1930’s era clothing who abruptly vanishes when approached. She has been described as a very attractive, blond woman, who seems very sad. Could this be Peg’s ghost, still making her presence known? Could she also be linked to the pungent smell of gardenia perfume which has been known to overwhelm sightseers in the park? Perhaps it is, as the gardenia scent was known to be Peg’s trademark perfume.
In 1990, a North Hollywood man and his girlfriend were walking on a Beachwood Canyon trail near the Hollywood sign with their dog when the animal suddenly began to act very strange. Instead of running around on the trail and through the brush as he normally did, he began to whine and hang back near the couple. They had never seen him act that way before and could find no cause until they spotted a lady walking nearby. One thing they noticed about her was that she was wearing clothing from the 1930’s. However, thinking that you could see anything in Hollywood, they didn’t pay much attention.
The lady however, seemed to be walking in a daze. Thinking that perhaps she was drunk or on drugs, they started to steer clear of her when she suddenly just faded away before their eyes. At that time, they had no idea who Peg Entwistle was, nor that she had committed suicide nearby, or even that her ghost reportedly haunted the area.
Another eyewitness is a Griffith Park ranger named John Arbogast. In an published interview, he revealed his own encounters with the ghost of Peg Entwistle. He stated that she normally made her presence known very late at night, especially when it was foggy, and always in the vicinity of the Hollywood sign. He also claimed to have encountered the scent of gardenias in the area as well. “I have smelled it several times,” he said, “and always when any flowers around have been closed because of cold weather. I don’t think I have ever smelled it in the summer time.”
Arbogast’s duties as a ranger often involved the Hollywood sign itself. He explained that in recent years, alarms systems have been installed near the sign to keep people away from it. There is always a danger of vandals, and of course, potential suicides. The alarm systems incorporate the use of motion detectors and lights to keep intruders away.
Arbogast recalled a number of times when the alarm system indicated that someone was close to the sign, even though a check by the ranger revealed no one was there. “There have been times when I have been at the sign,” he said, “and the motion detectors say that someone is standing five feet away from me...only there’s nobody there.”
So, what could have made Peg Entwistle choose to end her life in such a dramatic and violent way? No one knows, but we have to wonder. The Hollywood slogan states that the sign exists as a symbol of hope, so that those who answer the siren call of Hollywood will know that anything in the city is possible. But did Peg glimpse that sign one evening, after spending the day going from one pointless casting call to another, and see it not as a symbol of hope, but one of despair? Did she feel that sign mocking her, laughing that so many others had made it in the movies...so why couldn’t she?
Did the glowing lights of the sign remind her of why she had come to Hollywood, chasing the bright lights she would never catch up to? Or did she just want to go out in a way that people would remember? Unfortunately, we may never know...
Before closing, it is also worth noting that Peg's ex-husband, Robert Keith, had a son, Brian, from a prior marriage. Peg's brief stepson Brian Keith grew up to become a famous actor, best known for his role as "Uncle Bill" on the hit TV show, "Family Affair." Brian Keith also committed suicide in 1997.
(This fascinating story was initially brought to our attention by Frank's Reel Reviews, Findadeath.com and Wikipedia -- selected passages from each of these websites were reprinted in the preparation of this posting)