Archive for Marie Dressler

The Pattern Emerges

Posted in Comics, FILM, Mythology, Politics with tags , , on January 17, 2015 by dcairns

Dressler, Marie (Dinner at Eight)_01

So, at last I can reveal — inspired/distressed by recent events in Paris, I’ve written every blog post this week around the admittedly wide-ranging themes of violence and freedom of expression. Of course, it might actually be harder to write articles which did NOT touch on either subject, but there it is.

Meanwhile, on Facebook I swore, as a satirical act, to murder anyone who draws a caricature of Marie Dressler. Unpick that: am I comparing the prophet Mohammed to a 1930s grande dame of the screen? No. I am comparing the act of drawing a cartoon, with the act of drawing a catoon.


(We only know this is meant to be TPM because of context and because the magazine said so. But it is up to the viewer to decide meaning, so if you find this image offensive, simply accept it as a drawing of a random bloke. Problem solved!)

Accusations that the magazine Charlie Hebdo published cartoons which are racist are hard to gainsay — nothing to do with the intended message of the cartoons, which were often deliberately provocative, shooting out barbs in all directions, not so much a coherent argument about topical issues as a surreal mash-up of current concerns, immediately recognisable as offensive in intent, and therefor not particularly offensive to anyone who gets it. The racism comes from the actual physical attributes assigned to Arab figures in Charlie cartoons — big noses, always supplied with a few dots to represent pores. While the caricaturist’s stock-in-trade is grotesque distortion and exaggeration of physical traits, it does become racist when you move from goofy portraiture of, say, Bill Cosby, in all his specific qualities, to a cartoon grouping together all the perceived attributes of one race. Imagine the equivalent drawing of a stock black person, for instance. In fact, the difficulty may stem from the mere idea of discussing Arabs as some kind of unvarying unit. Or from the magazine assuming that anybody, from the editor on down, is qualified to draw cartoons.

But this is, in fact, irrelevant to current events since the massacre was not motivated by ethnic slurs but as revenge for caricaturing of The Prophet Mohammed. An entirely — ENTIRELY — separate issue. Did France’s colonial behaviour in the past influence events? Did the West’s recent wars of aggression? Absolutely. Though probably not as much as social injustice in modern France, which produces a disaffected underclass including many immigrants and their descendants, to whom violence might seem the best/only option for attaining some sense of self-worth, however twisted that is.

My take on this is that Islam has a firm rule against such representations — so serious adherents to this religion, if they wish to remain within its arms, should not make drawings of TPH. However, this rule does not, cannot and should not apply to anybody outside the faith. If I sketched the prophet, I would not be drawing the representative of Allah. I would be drawing a person I assume probably lived a long time ago, but who had no more connection to the divine than anyone else. That’s who he is to me, because I’m not a Muslim.

Far be it from me to dictate to anyone else, but I would like to see Muslims accept that the daubings of unbelievers have no real relationship to the Prophet they admire and the God they worship. What is ultimately required is an acceptance that the unbeliever is entitled to his or her unbelief. Liberal Muslims already accept this in principle, but there is a reluctance to go the next step and say, “If you trash my beliefs I’ll find that rather disgusting, but specific cultural requirements about not representing figures of religion do not apply to people who don’t share that religion.”

There is a danger I may be mansplaining, or whatever the white western secular liberal version of that is. There is something iffy about saying “This is a western democracy and if you come here you have to follow OUR rules,” as if there were no possibility that an incoming culture could have a POSITIVE influence. But Europe is multicultural, so to get along at all we may have to put up with people disrespecting our deepest beliefs (After all, how do you disrespect a belief? Simply by NOT SHARING IT.) I happen to be very fond of freedom of expression. If you suggest limiting it, you are offending MY deepest values. But you know what? I still won’t kill you for it.


Pontiff: “I’m-a puncha you inna face!”

Via Facebook ~

Fiona:Watching the news. The Pope comes on and says he’ll punch anyone who insults his mother. “What about turning the other cheek?” says D. Me – “He’s Italian. Of course he’ll punch you if you insult his mother.”

Amendment – He’s Argentinian. But he’ll punch you if you dis his mum. Just accept it.

Me: He’ll turn his other cheek and then punch you while you’re distracted by it.

Travis Reeves:  of course, you’re all wrong. The biblical reference you’re making is frequently misinterpreted. The point is not to turn away from the insult, but to offer the other cheek AS WELL.

Me: So in this instance what he should do is discover a second mum for us to insult.

Travis Reeves: Depending on your interpretation, you could hit one person four times as it is. This Pope is starting to sound like a thug.

Me: He could adopt twenty mums, say you’ve insulted all of them, and kick the crap out of you.

Travis Reeves: Mother Mary, Mother Theresa…

Me: Once you start down that route, it’s total war…

Fiona: Mother Marie Dressler…




The Mummy’s Curse

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 14, 2008 by dcairns


“Bloomin’ Ada!” as my Mum would say. I have been tagged with a meme, using the parlance of our times. Next thing you know I’ll be participating in flash mobs and Anne Summers parties and other symptoms of this age we live in. I have been tagged by the Self-Styled Siren, who runs my favourite blog on classical Hollywood cinema (and occasional other subjects too) so I guess that means I have to comply. The meme (I’m not explaining that one: go pound on Professor Richard Dawkins’s door) requires me to list twenty actresses, and originated here. The idea is that they should be your twenty favourites — the Siren wisely narrowed that to twenty actresses whose mere presence in a film would be enough to make her watch it, and she’s hinted that she expects “classic choices”, so I’m guessing that tends to eliminate Little Nell, Daisy and Violet Hilton, Buck Angel or even Maria Montez. As well as this woman.

But I still feel  the need to whittle further, both to avoid repeating the Siren’s excellent list (I’ve just started on the THIN MAN films, and Myrna Loy is much on my mind), and to impart a unique something-or-other to the proceedings. I note that most of the actresses being selected are extremely beautiful, and since if I were to choose twenty actors, they might include numerous fellows I don’t actually admire physically, I thought it would be interesting to choose twenty actresses who… how shall I put this? Must find a classy and gentlemanly way of saying it.

Twenty actresses whom I would always be glad to see in a film, although I have no real desire to “do” them.


1) Margaret Rutherford. I’m appalled to realise that I’ve had THE BEST DAYS OF YOUR LIFE for over a month now without watching it, and after spending ages trying to source a copy. Rutherford, who George Harrison, back in his Beatles heyday, would choose if challenged to name a favourite actress, had a face rather like a very old man’s neck, but was both a dexterous eccentric comedian and a powerful tragedian, as witness her speech at the end of Orson Welles’s CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT. She exemplifies what I’m talking about here, since sexuality didn’t really play much of a role in her art or life: apparently she and her husband both referred to lists of instructions — crib sheets —  to see them through their honeymoon night, so ignorant were they of matters erotic.


2) Agnes Moorehead. Not so sure here, since I never bought the idea that Agnes was ugly, and the warmth and admiration I feel for her is akin to romantic love, so maybe, under the right circumstances… but sexiness wasn’t part of her screen repertoire, which included all kinds of genius qualities, including the ability to throw hysterical attacks so convincing that terrified studio execs demanded retakes on both MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS and THE TRUE STORY OF JESSE JAMES, to make her less effective. (It might seem perverse for studios to demand such a thing, but I suspect studio interference is nearly ALWAYS based on a desire to make films less effective.)


3) Margaret Hamilton. A very different actress, but with a parallel to Moorehead in that both were typecast as spinsters and crones at an age when they could have been playing ingenues, had nature arranged things differently. The Wicked Witch isn’t in enough films, but over the decades she did enough obscure work that her appearances are often a surprise, as in the Sean Connery heist film THE ANDERSON TAPES. I always get very excited whenever she turns up, like a small child experiencing his first mouthful of cocaine.


4) Una O’Connor. Usually delivered in small doses, which was probably wise — her shrieking performances in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN and THE INVISIBLE MAN might conceivably appear irritating if overextended. (You think?) But I just saw Renoir’s astounding THIS LAND IS MINE, where she keeps an impressive lid on it for most of the show, only allowing those deadly lungs free rein at one key moment.


5) Spring Byington. Utterly fabulous actress, often excelling in warm-hearted, matronly roles, but check out her bone-chilling nastiness in DRAGONWYCK, which I maintain she steals from under everyone else’s noses. The point where her character is inexplicably forgotten about by the plot is the point where the movie loses interest for me, even as a tired rehash of REBECCA.


6) Speaking of that film, Mrs. Danvers herself (strangely impossible to picture MR. Danvers, I find), Dame Judith Anderson, deserves a mention. Often called upon to inject menace or else matriarchal might, she turns her hand ably to comedy in René Clair’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE.


7) I’m on shaky ground again with Ethel Waters, because I do think she’s beautiful, and always appealing, warm and engaging (in contrast to her knife-wielding offscreen behaviour!), and I wouldn’t like to think I’m shoving her into some character actor Siberia just because she’s heavy. But CABIN IN THE SKY allows ample opportunity to compare and contrast her with Lena Horne, and then certain subjective truths become inescapable. My love of Ethel is entirely platonic. My love of Lena is entirely otherwise.


8) Irene Handl. When you have a figure as beloved in old age as Irene Handl, once in a while you get the urge to see what she was like when young. But with Irene Handle, youth appears to have been a condition she never experienced. A brilliant eccentric player, she forged an unlikely career, given her unusual appearance, but she always made an impression, even in the smallest role, because she was incapable of leaving a part without fully investing it with life. So she could quite often make more impact in thirty seconds than the stars did with the rest of the film.


9) Kathleen Freeman. You know this one? Always saying “He’s such a nice boy,” in Jerry Lewis movies. Lewis is generally brilliant at casting his supporting players, and he knew he was onto a great thing with Freeman.


10) Dandy Nichols. Able to effortlessly take the manners and mores of social realism, 1960s style, and flip them into farce. Has a great moment in THE BED-SITTING ROOM, looking uncomfortable on a horse. That should be enough for anyone.


11) Katie Johnson. She’s in other films, but it’s for THE LADYKILLERS she’s remembered. So old and frail at the time that she failed the insurance exam and had to be replaced with a younger actress, who promptly dropped dead, so Katie got the part in the end, and a good thing too. Her combination of physical fragility and steely moral certainty is exactly what the film needs.


12) Flora Robson. I saw her interviewed on TV when I was a kid and she was pretty old, and the interviewer kindly said that she had grown more beautiful with age, while the glamour girls could only fade. It’s kind of true, but what an amazing career she had with her big Rondo Hatton face — it no doubt kept her from many parts, but she was able to command some corkers. And actually, her flirtation with Errol Flynn in THE SEA HAWK is entirely charming and credible.


13) Marie Dressler. DINNER AT EIGHT is actually kind of a yawn for me, but I do love her spectacular double-take when Jean Harlow says she’s been reading a book. Anybody who does a gigantic double take is tops with me.

Davis, Bette & Ritter, Thelma & Holm, Celeste

14) Thelma Ritter. Her presence here at number 14 makes it VERY clear, I hope, that this list is in no particular order.


15) Esther Howard. A little obscure here? But SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS fans will know her as the randy widow Joel McCrea flees, jumping out the widow’s window rather that submitting to her wiles. Which is to say, sexuality is a part of the Howard repertoire, but it’s a comedy version, and what’s most important about her is her overbearing “charm”, deployed to very funny effect in HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO and about a hundred and fifty other films and TV shows. I’ll even add one not listed among her credits on the IMDb: WHAT A WAY TO GO!


16) Megs Jenkins. One of my favourite larger ladies in British films, as seen in GREEN FOR DANGER and THE INNOCENTS. Her appearance is sort of Kathy Bates-like, but she has an incredibly beautiful and unusual voice, and I feel all warm and snuggly whenever I hear it. I would probably trade one of my less necessary limbs in exchange for about 1000 hours of Megs reading audio-books.


17) Renee Houston. Had to have one Great Scot on the list. Renee was very pretty in the ’30s, but wasn’t making any films I’ve seen, so I know her from her later roles as battle-axes, drunken baggages and generally rambunctious females. She generally inspires a loud cheer in my household when her name appears in the credits, as it does in TIME WITHOUT PITY.


18) The alarming Gail Sondergaard. I have no excuse for it, but I actually like her dragon lady yellowface stereotype turn in THE LETTER. And she’s terrifying in CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY, without seeming to try.


19) Patricia Collinge. Cinema’s greatest mum, apart from mine, that is, who can be seen briefly from the back in extreme longshot in my short film CRY FOR BOBO, and who recently complained that I’d made her look dumpy or something.


20) Aline McMahon, but then actually I do think she’s extremely beautiful and under the right circumstances, if I were a younger man, etc…

And twenty who do fill me with indecent cravings:

Louise Brooks, Clara Bow, Annabella, Joan Blondell, Myrna Loy, Olivia DeHavilland, Paulette Goddard, Veronica Lake, Ava Gardner, Joan Greenwood, Gene Tierney, Natalie Wood, Claudia Cardinale, Shirley MacLaine as Fran Kubelik, Britt Ekland if I’m honest, Susannah York (I’m coming to believe she makes an even better Julie Christie than Julie Christie), Jeanne Moreau, Genevieve Bujold, Maggie Cheung, Charlize Theron… I could go on…