People fantasize about sex with movie stars. That’s often what makes them movie stars instead of merely actors. I discovered just how strongly those fantasies can hold us when I read that Uma Thurman smokes. It bothered me, the way it would bother me if a potential lover suddenly lit up. It’s ridiculous, of course. There will never come a time when Thurman lights up after sex and I’ll have to breathe it.
Smoking wasn’t an issue when Rudolph Valentino set hearts aflutter, but sex sure was. Women went wild about him, and men fumed. They hated Valentino. And yet, a decade later, few men objected when their wives and girlfriends fell for Errol Flynn.
Maybe they were just more media-savvy by 1935; more accepting of celluloid fantasies. But I suspect that the problem was Valentino himself. He was different. Italian. Exotic. And not altogether, well, manly. No red-blooded American male wanted to be Rudolph Valentino, but they sure wanted to be Flynn. It’s easy to accept your lover fantasizing about sex with your own fantasy of yourself.
That made Errol Flynn the perfect movie star. Half the audience wanted to be him, and the other half wanted to bed him. Many probably wanted both.
In many ways, the identity fantasy (by which I mean wishing to be the character onscreen, not the flesh-and-blood actor) is a greater pull than even the sexual one. I’m a bigger fan of Groucho Marx than I am of Uma Thurman, but I’ve never wanted to sleep with him (and not just because of that cigar). I want to go through life smug, satisfied, and with a clever quip for all the Margaret Dumonts of the world.
And there’s the catch. We can’t be movie stars. Even real movie stars aren’t as glamorous as their onscreen alter egos. We can enjoy our fantasies, of course, but at some point we have to live in the real world. That’s the hard part.
I’m not Groucho Marx, and I usually come up with clever quips five minutes too late. So I’ll just be myself, and give you this week’s recommendations and noteworthy movies.
Recommendation: Notorious, Stanford, Friday through Sunday. One of Hitchcock’s best. In order to prove her patriotism, scandal-ridden Ingrid Bergman seduces, beds, and marries Claude Rains’ Nazi industrialist, while true love Cary Grant grimly watches. Sexy, romantic, thought-provoking, and scary enough to shorten your fingernails. On a double bill with his early Young and Innocent.
Recommendation: Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Life of Brian; Galaxy Theater (San Francisco), Friday through Thursday. Monty Python at their best, together on a double-bill, for a one-week engagement at a theater I’d generally not include on this site.
Recommendation: The Maltese Falcon, Balboa, Saturday and Sunday. The ultimate Dashiell Hammett picture, the second-best directorial debut of 1941 (after Citizen Kane), an important precursor to film noir, and perhaps the most entertaining detective movie ever made. Part of the Balboa’s Reel San Francisco festival, it’s on a double bill with Dangerous Female, an earlier, pre-code version of Hammett’s novel. Noir City’s Eddie Muller and Hammett author Joe Gores introduce the Saturday evening shows; “Hammett in SF– tour guide Don Herron the Sunday evening shows.
Noteworthy: State of Cinema Address, San Francisco International Film Festival, Kabuki Theater, Sunday, 5:00. Animation writer and director Brad Bird (Iron Giant, The Incredibles) will discuss the state of the art. I appreciate an animator who not only does excellent work, but has a name like a cartoon character. Should be interesting.
Noteworthy: Edgar G.Ulmer-The Man Off Screen, San Francisco International Film Festival, Kabuki Theater, Monday, 10:00am and 6:15. This documentary explores the poverty row auteur’s career. For 30 years, he knocked off cheap exploitation movies with a creativity and panache that’s astounding considering his budgets and schedules. His best-known film, Detour (1945) pretty much started film noir.
Noteworthy: Blackmail, San Francisco International Film Festival, Palace of Fine Arts, Monday, 7:00. Hitchcock’s first talkie was also his last silent (it was common in those days to make two versions of the same film). I’ve seen the talkie, which is weird, creepy, crude, but fascinating. The silent, I’ve heard, is better. I plan to find out Monday night. One of two silents that night accompanied by the Alloy Orchestra.
Recommendation: The Phantom of the Opera, San Francisco International Film Festival, Palace of Fine Arts, Monday, 9:15. I haven’t seen the musical, but the original silent Phantom is a tough one to beat. The demasking scene will stick in your memory for life. The newly-restored print recreates the original tints, 2-color Technicolor, and painted stencil colors. The second Alloy Orchestra presentation of the evening.
Recommendation: The Seven Year Itch, Castro, Monday and Tuesday. Billy Wilder’s other film with Marilyn Monroe is no Some Like It Hot, but it’s still a funny and observant look at sex drives and fantasies in the 1950’s. On a double bill with How to Marry a Millionaire, one of the first two CinemaScope movies, and thus of historical interest even if it’s not really all that good.
Noteworthy: Princess of Mount Ledang, San Francisco International Film Festival, Kabuki Theater, Thursday, 8:00. This Malaysian historical epic, based on two 15th century legends, caught my eye as a movie that might be worth going to.