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5 jul20205

Black, white, and all the greys - the beauty of classic pictures 1920-60s

Barcelona, SpainBarcelona, Spain
The Many Colours of Black & White
Most of the time, when somebody asks me "let's watch a movie!", my mind takes off into a whirlwind of thoughts somewhere around 1936 and wanders through 1940s to find a gem I would like to watch. I know, I know, that's not what today's people mean but I am an old soul. I used to be afraid of black & white movies. "It's boring", "You end up trying to imagine more than you actually see", and more - I've heard it all, either from people or in my own head few years ago.

Then I watched a few of those movies. Those were mostly musical comedies with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and some film-noir titles with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. My brain exploded. Splash! Baaroom! All those prejudices and assumptions went out of the window very quickly and I couldn't get enough of watching.

When I wasn't watching them, I was thinking about them. I realised I paid so much more attention to facial expressions, the ambient, surroundings, gesticulation, and eyes. In terms of sound I focused more on how they were saying things rather than what. "Could colours be, sometimes, too much of a distraction that make us not pay enough attention to the content?" - I asked myself. I'm sure it differs from person to person but in my case it was true.

Sometimes I would catch myself thinking about the colours - what is the colour of the dress, the shoes, the curtains, but always tried to bring myself back to the ground. Thinking about them caused me to start missing vital pieces of the movie. 

Don't get me wrong. I like colours and coloured movies, but it was a total shake-up for my senses and I'm glad I did it.
https://www.walterfilm.com
"Dark Passage" from 1947 was one of the first movies I have watched and it is still one of my all-time favourites. It was Bacall and Bogart's third movie together, and by that time, their chemistry was apparent and something extraordinarily beautiful to watch. Not to mention they got married within a year from havint met at the filming of "To Have And Have Not" in 1944.

From the moment I saw those first movies I followed the paths of those four stars. More musicals with Fred and Ginger, more film-noirs with Bogart and Bacall. Naturally I discovered more interesting titles and stars and created my own network of genres, directors, and stars that have accompanied me in the last few years.
 
Exception
I have thought about many times and realised that there is only one type of films that I could not watch: Westerns. Despite some westerns featuring great actors and actresses that could provide additional information about the type of people they had to portray and their journey in filming career, I could not bring myself to watch them. If you asked me why, I probably would not answer straight away. At times, I think I don't really want to watch movies where the Native Americans are most of the time portrayed as either villains of the story or sidekicks.

Sometimes I watch stories that are situated in similar times and places, like "River of No Return" with Marilyn Monroe and Robert Mitchum but on my "To Watch" list, you can't find any titles with John Wayne or the likes.
 
The List
Of course I have a list. Lists are awesome! Currently I have 860 titles on my list. Only 20.70% of them I already watched. Yes, there are plenty of pictures to watch but I haven't been making a conscious effort to watch them lately as most of my time is consumed by careful listetning to Latin music.

Keeping the list of my movies, directors, and stars in a database has one more advantage - it lets you analyse your data :D  Turns out almost half of the movies on list have one of the TOP 15 stars. It's not necessarily my favourite 15 but more in terms of volume. 

Cary Grant
Horfield, United Kingdom
13 watched out of 44
Robert Mitchum
Bridgeport, CT, United States
14 watched out of 37
Humphrey Bogart
New York, NY, United States
19 watched out of 36
Ginger Rogers
Independence, MO, United States
22 watched out of 28
Fred Astaire
Omaha, NE, United States
15 watched out of 26
Gene Tierney
Brooklyn, NY, United States
8 watched out of 26
James Cagney
New York City, NY, United States
5 watched out of 25
Ava Lavinia Gardner
Grabtown, NC, United States
6 watched out of 23
Bette Davis
Lowell, MA, United States
1 watched out of 22
Marilyn Monroe
Los Angeles, CA, United States
11 watched out of 21
Natalie Wood
San Francisco, CA, United States
5 watched out of 20
Rita Hayworth
Brooklyn, NY, United States
13 watched out of 20
Barbara Stanwyck
Brooklyn, NY, United States
1 watched out of 19
Tony Curtis
New York City, NY, United States
4 watched out of 19
George Sanders
St. Petersburg, Russia
0 watched out of 18


It does not mean there are only 15 stars worth noting from the classical era. I have 546 of them split between 860 movies. One thing that I like is that even though some of them have gone to be boxed up in a specific type of persona they portray, be it a funny guy, flirty silly girl, or unbreakable poker-face man, they all tried different things. Robert Mitchum did a comedy once or twice, Marilyn Monroe didn't just play in romantic comedies, and Cary Grant also has some more serious movies under his belt.

I wonder if it's easier to get out of the label nowadays then it was back then. I am not that familiar with the cinema past 1960 and especially not past 1990s, hence can't really tell. In my opinion it was harder back in the days. Once you had a contract with one of the big guys and had to star in certain amount of movies, they would probably cast you in a very similar role all the time. The pictures were produced much quicker back then as well. No CGI or special effects needed. Film, post-edit here and there, and you can jump into another movie. 
 
Is It Just About Acting?
At one point I was able to watch about 5-6 movies a week. Not once but at least twice. It allowed me to catch different aspects every time and if I wanted to see it for the third time, I knew it would be one of those pictures to remember. 

Somehow I paid a great amount of attention to the detail of how they spoke, what their faces were showing, and the responses of the fellow actors. Even though everything is an act, the truly amazing actors manage to recall moments from their lives, in order to bring an emotion to life at that precise moment. It's part of the theory that our emotional reaction is first the product of searching in our emotion alert database - to use a computer metaphor. Our automatic appraising system searches for things that resemble current situation (Paul Ekman). Stanislavski's theory about acting is that it's quite possible to train actors to use that to their advantage. This means they actually feel what they're acting. Some might say in that case it's not really acting anymore :)
Marylin Monroe & Tony Curtis, 1959

I think I learned more about people's expressions and how they show emotions from those movies than the actual people. Perhaps I didn't pay enough attention to the real world, who knows. I also feel that in today's world there's not enough emphasis on emotional intelligence. No, it shouldn't stay just in movies. Instead, we should take a lesson from them. Emotional intelligence needs to be taught and practiced, otherwise the only emotions we can show are going to be in facebook's comment section. 

Even I can admit that some scenes in those pictures are sometimes exaggerated to the point of eyebrows reaching new high. The spontaeanous kisses when a guy grabs the girl by both shoulders, the hugs that are not really hugs when you actually face cheek to cheek, and so on. Let's remember that until the 60s the movie industry still had to follow the Code. No open-mouth kissing, and if there was any kissing, it had to be preceeded by a conversation to explain the "situation".

Yet when you hear James Cagney saying a line like "Girl, I like you and I'm gonna marry you, you'll see", it makes you wonder "Oh, if it were only that easy". By the way, I think James Cagney was one of the very few people who could pull off such a line and mean it :)
She was bad. She was dangerous. I wouldn't trust her any farther than I could throw her. But she was my kind of woman.

The Cinema Museum
I didn't spend much time exploring the cinemas in London, which is something I regret a little bit today but I did manage to find one gem. The Cinema Museum is situated in the administration unit of the old Lambeth Workhouse in London. Charlie Chaplin used to live in there with his mother when she faced destitution. The moment I entered the building I felt like home. Thousands of artefacts from movie industry: posters, calendars, humongous cameras, and other memorabilia. 
https://www.timeout.com/london/film/behind-the-scenes-at-the-cinema-museum

The last time I visited the Cinema Museum was to watch a screening of "Passport to Pimlico" as the deadline of Brexit was upon us. They have a small screen and maybe 150 seats but the decor, the ambient, and the location made this experience better than any 5D imax. I sat more to the side, on one of the couches. Stretched my legs, bought a beer, and enjoyed the screening. 

One of the spots in London I will definitely miss. You can't find many places like that anymore but they're worth protecting, so if you know of a niche, small cinema in your area - go and watch a movie!
Passport to Pimlico

My Favourites
We all have them. We watch them at least few times a year and they never get boring. There could always be a small detail we missed last time and that hope makes watching it again even sweeter. Here are some of my all-time favourites, well, at least from the 20% I watched so far. I was told that I watch too many movies once but I always say that people should watch more of them instead..

Top HatYear:1935Directed by:Mark SandrichGenres:Comedy, Musical, RomanceCast:Ginger Rogers
Fred Astaire
RobertaYear:1935Directed by:William A. SeiterGenres:Comedy, Musical, RomanceCast:Ginger Rogers
Fred Astaire
Swing TimeYear:1936Directed by:George StevensGenres:Comedy, Musical, RomanceCast:Ginger Rogers
Fred Astaire
Shall We DanceYear:1937Directed by:Mark SandrichGenres:Comedy, Musical, RomanceCast:Ginger Rogers
Fred Astaire
Angels with Dirty FacesYear:1938Directed by:Michael CurtizGenres:Crime, Drama, Film-Noir, ThrillerCast:Humphrey Bogart
James Cagney
Ann Sheridan
Pat O'Brien
To Have and Have NotYear:1944Directed by:Howard HawksGenres:Adventure, Comedy, Romance, Thriller, WarCast:Humphrey Bogart
Lauren Bacall
GildaYear:1946Directed by:Charles VidorGenres:Drama, Film-Noir, Romance, ThrillerCast:Rita Hayworth
Glenn Ford
Dark PassageYear:1947Directed by:Delmer DavesGenres:Film-Noir, ThrillerCast:Humphrey Bogart
Lauren Bacall
His Kind of WomanYear:1951Directed by:John FarrowGenres:Action, Crime, Film-NoirCast:Robert Mitchum
Jane Russell
Gloria Grahame
The Loves of CarmenYear:1948Directed by:Charles VidorGenres:Adventure, Drama, MusicCast:Rita Hayworth
Glenn Ford
Dial M for MurderYear:1954Directed by:Alfred HitchcockGenres:Crime, ThrillerCast:Grace Kelly
Ray MIlland
To Catch a ThiefYear:1955Directed by:Alfred HitchcockGenres:Mystery, Romance, ThrillerCast:Cary Grant
Grace Kelly
Rebel Without a CauseYear:1955Directed by:Nicholas RayGenres:DramaCast:James Dean
Natalie Wood
North by NorthwestYear:1959Directed by:Alfred HitchcockGenres:Adventure, Mystery, ThrillerCast:Cary Grant
Eva Marie Saint
The Nun's StoryYear:1959Directed by:Fred ZinnemannGenres:DramaCast:Audrey Hepburn
Peter Finch
Where the Sidewalk EndsYear:1950Directed by:Otto PremingerGenres:Crime, Drama, Film-NoirCast:Gene Tierney
Dana Andrews
The EgyptianYear:1954Directed by:Michael CurtizGenres:Biography, Drama, HistoryCast:Gene Tierney
Jean Simmons
Victor Mature
The Angry HillsYear:1959Directed by:Robert AldrichGenres:Drama, Thriller, WarCast:Robert Mitchum
Elisabeth Müller
Gia Scala
Jocelyn Lane
Thunder RoadYear:1958Directed by:Arthur RipleyGenres:Crime, Drama, Film-Noir, ThrillerCast:Robert Mitchum
Keely Smith
River of No ReturnYear:1954Directed by:Otto PremingerGenres:Action, Adventure, Drama, Music, Romance, WesternCast:Robert Mitchum
Marilyn Monroe
Rory Calhoun
Some Like It HotYear:1959Directed by:Billy WilderGenres:Comedy, Music, RomanceCast:Marilyn Monroe
Tony Curtis
Jack Lemmon
Portrait of JennieYear:1948Directed by:William DieterleGenres:Drama, Fantasy, Mystery, RomanceCast:Joseph Cotten
Jennifer Jones
Ethel Barrymore
Lillian Gish
 
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