Growing up, I spent my Saturday mornings in front of the television watching pals Bugs Bunny and the rest of the Looney Tunes crew, Tom and Jerry, Droopy, Huckleberry Hound, The Flintstones, its later spin-off The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show, The Smurfs, The Snorks, Scooby-Doo Where Are You?, and of course Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. Having one morning dedicated to cartoons after a long week of dealing with bullies, and shitty teachers, and pop quizzes, and that kid who always smelled like mustard (ALWAYS), was a welcomed respite. It was like cracking open a cold one after a hard day’s work. But since I was a just mere pup, let’s say it was like dunking a fresh chocolate chip cookie into a glass of cold milk (Ding! Age appropriate!). Then suddenly, cartoons were everywhere. On every channel. At any time. Hell, even a channel devoted to them 24 hours a day. This was fantastic! When Cartoon Network launched I rarely watched anything else (and honestly, other than TCM and the few channels my daughter watches, this is still true today. Read: Uncle Grandpa and Adult Swim). However, with the advent of the never-ending access to cartoons, came a quiet death to beloved Saturday morning cartoons on network television.
The lovely ladies at the classic film blog True Classics have dedicated the month of June to “Movie Memories”. This is their second year hosting the hugely successful event, and I am honored to be asked to participate. Please take the time to read all of the Movie Memories over at True Classics. You will not be disappointed.
I think everyone will agree the perfect dog has certain qualities that make him/her Man’s Best Friend: loyalty, strength, good temperament, intelligence, obedience. As a kid, I held Lassie up as the model for the perfect family dog. Trapped in the town’s abandoned coal mine? Never fear! Lassie will not only run for help, she will bring you a fresh set of clothing, a turkey and cheese sandwich on whole wheat, and a glass of milk. Need help with your homework? Lassie won’t eat it! She will solve all those pesky word problems and write an essay on French Imperialism. WOW!
“Mom and Dad, can we pleeeeeeease get a dog?”
That’s right. You ask for Lassie and you end up with Shithead. Sure, he’s cute and scruffy. He even has moments of grand heroism fraught with danger. But most of the time, Shithead does what he wants when he wants. This includes following commands when it is convenient, and still reaping the maximum reward. Shithead is far from perfect, but he’s real. He’s the dog we all know because there’s a little Shithead in all our lives.
On December 3, 1979 the brilliant wordsmith Kittenbiscuits was born. 11 days later, Carl Reiner released his masterpiece The Jerk in honor of the occasion. Starring Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters, and co-written by Martin and Carl Gottlieb, The Jerk tells the story of Navin R. Johnson, son of a poor black sharecropper. Patiently waiting for the day when his skin will change color to match that of his family, Navin finally learns the real truth: he is not their natural born son. Although distraught over this revelation, Navin soon comes to terms with his racial identity. He sets out to find his own way in the world, his “special purpose”, to prove to himself and his family that he is a man.
Soon into his wandering trek, Navin encounters a scruffy mutt barking at his motel room door. Navin must have always wanted a Lassie dog too, because he attempts to translate the dog’s frantic barking. Arriving at the conclusion the motel is on fire, Navin runs out in his skivvies, banging on every single door and yelling. Of course there is no fire. This dog is no Lassie and is certainly no lifesaver. Navin’s dream of owning the perfect dog blinds him from the obvious truth. It takes an outside observer to see the dog for what he really is: a shithead. In that moment, a cultural icon was born.
For the first time, audiences see a realistic portrayal of the All-American pooch. Before The Jerk, dogs in film were represented by Hollywood’s canine elite: Skippy (Asta), Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, Pete the Pup, even Benji. Sadly, Shithead’s bust is not in that Hall of Fame. A travesty. The furry actor who played this character, could have stuck to the heroic canine archetype, yet he knew audiences of the 1970s would respond to a fresh approach. This unnamed dog bravely made the choice to play against type. In my humble opinion, his gamble paid off. One of the things that makes Shithead so special, is that despite lacking the talents of the more famous dogs, he is still more intelligent than Navin.
Shithead is a free-spirit who knows what he wants and is not afraid to get it. You can imagine him saying ” Hey, man! I’m just here to have a good time.” He represents the era in which he lived. On the eve of the 1980s, he’s a dog poised to become a living legend. He defines the free, easy living of the 1970s, yet he is not afraid of embracing the excesses that lie ahead. Shithead is fully aware that nothing lasts forever. His motto is “Carpe Diem; Keep on Truckin’.”
Make no mistake, although he does what he wants, Shithead really tries to do what he thinks is in Navin’s best interest. For example, while he is taking a bubble bath, Navin’s girlfriend Marie decides to walk out, leaving a “Dear John” letter. Without Shithead drawing his attention to it, Navin would not have seen the note. Navin quickly hops out of the tub to chase after Marie, but he has no clothing. Shithead pipes up with a suggestive bark and we hear Navin say “good thinking!” His modesty saved by his faithful dog, Navin runs after the love of his life…but it’s too late.
From rags to riches, and quickly back to rags, Shithead is mostly there for Navin. Isn’t that what all dogs are? Mostly there? They love you as long as you feed them and there’s not something stinky to chew on. When the food is scarce and when you cut yourself shaving and nothing comes out but air, don’t expect them to stick around. If you’re drowning, remember there is always a steak, medium-rare, on higher ground. A real dog, just like Shithead, will be running toward it.
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This is my contribution for the Classic Movie Dogathon hosted by Classic Film and TV Cafe. Thanks to Rick for this wonderful event! Please check out all of the participating blogs. You can find a schedule here with links to all of the contributing sites.
For the past several months I have been lost without the dapper, distinguished, most knowledgeable Robert Osborne, host of Turner Classic Movies. He is more than just a host– he is a teacher. And in my ongoing education in classic film, Robert Osborne is essential.
What does that even mean? How can a statement so obviously opinionated be an absolute truth?
I remember the first time I ever saw Kane. I was in college at Purdue University and enrolled in an English class simply called “Film.” I had always wanted to take a film class, and even briefly considered pursing an English degree with emphasis on film. Of course the practical side of one’s brain typically chimes in with “yeah, that’s all fine and good, but how will you make a living?” Sometimes I wish I had gone with my gut and told my brain to shut up…but that’s another story. On the first day of class we received the syllabus with a complete listing of the films covered. A wide range of films from different eras, genres, and countries including: Battleship Potemkin, His Girl Friday, Breathless, The Godfather, La Grande Illusion, North by Northwest, Our Hospitality, Psycho, Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz…and of course Citizen Kane.
The films in the class were shown once a week in one of the auditoriums on campus. The audio was typically horrendous (and the seats incredibly uncomfortable) so I always tried to get copies of the films and watch on my own at home. Plus this allowed me to take notes, pause, and re-watch particular scenes. For Kane I was quite excited. I had always heard about it being the greatest film ever made and how it was a major influence on all filmmakers and the industry in general. Since we were watching from a technical perspective, I was watching for editing techniques, cinematography, visual effects, camera angles, etc. Since I was learning the anatomy of a film, and Kane is a perfect example in the study of filmmaking, I was quite impressed. After all, there is nothing more rewarding than to be able to actually see film techniques being executed perfectly…and being able to easily identify them. Needless to say, I was blown away…until I actually watched it.
Years later I sat down and watched Kane with the intent of being entertained. After viewing it several times and picking it apart piece by piece for essays I thought it would be nice to revisit it as a casual viewer. I hate to admit this, but I was not incredibly entertained. I was flat out disappointed. And every time I have watched it at home and even on the big screen at The Fabulous Fox theatre, I’ve had the same reaction- “meh.” Maybe it is one of those films that cannot be watched casually.
Just because it isn’t an entertaining film for me doesn’t mean it’s not important or valuable. Citizen Kane is one of the most culturally significant films ever made. It is a perfect “teaching” movie and in order to be fully appreciated, it must be viewed in context. First of all, Orson Welles was 25 years old and Kane was his feature length directorial debut. That in of itself is quite impressive, but Welles achieved much more. He had unprecedented control over cast selection and the most important aspect of filmmaking: final cut. In addition to his control of the production, Welles wrote a screenplay that unmistakably resembled the life and career of William Randolph Hearst– one of the most influential and powerful men in the country at that time.Think of Edward Arnold’s role as Jim Taylor in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Hearst had a similar level of control in the media and he successfully limited Kane’s release. It’s not surprising. After all, Welles uses Hearst’s pet name for his mistress Marion Davies’s “Dolores”– Rosebud. I have to give Welles credit because he certainly had guts.
“Honoring” a masterpiece
Imitation is said to be the highest form of flattery. Maybe a film is mocked because it is beloved, like the constant spoofing of Star Wars (“Come to the Dark Side, We Have Cookies!”). Perhaps when taken out of context a moment becomes utterly ridiculous, like that infamous line about badges in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (Blazing Saddles “Badges? Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!” or in the case of UHF “Badgers? Badgers? We don’t need no stinkin’ badgers!). Sometimes we mock films because they’re so serious we need to lighten things up a bit. Citizen Kane has the distinction of being imitated many times, possibly to the point of becoming obnoxious. However there are a few instances that are absolutely hilarious. One of the first spoofs of Kane I ever saw was the Rosebud episode of The Simpsons from season five. I was young, and The Simpsons were delicious forbidden fruit (if you said “Eat my shorts” in school you would get in serious trouble. Although I got in trouble for saying “Don’t have a cow, man!” I also couldn’t wear my Bart Simpson earrings to school. Fascists!).
I had not seen Citizen Kane yet, and I doubt most of the kids watching The Simpsons had either. In Rosebud we learn that Mr. Burns, born Charles Montgomery Burns, was sent to live with a billionaire when just a young boy. He was forced to leave his beloved teddy bear behind, named Bobo. Revealing to assistant and self-proclaimed “Burnsosexual” Waylon Smithers that he misses Bobo, he decides to start searching for him. Of course Homer and the rest of the Simpsons clan are involved in the drama. The entire episode is like watching a condensed version of the film, except way more entertaining. The Rosebud episode is not the only time Citizen Kane is mentioned in The Simpsons. Below are some screenshots and video from other episodes:
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The Simpsons is not the only television show to pay hilarious homage to Citizen Kane. Some are quite hilarious and others are, well, just plain stupid:
From Pinky and the Brain:
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From The Critic:
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From Family Guy
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From The Real Ghostbusters (make sure to watch until the end of the clip. It’s just too hilarious…and so stupid)
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Gotta love an Orson Welles-y ghost critter yelling out “wheeeeee!” once he is happily reunited with his beloved Rosebud.
I will concede that Citizen Kane is a technically perfect film. For the purposes of studying the ins and outs of filmmaking, it is the example. I will also concede that Welles was a master. He had a vision and he stuck to it, sometimes to a fault. He had the gift of recognizing what is visually appealing to the eye. He also knew how to make people uncomfortable. For example, at the beginning of Kane, we witness a quiet death. With the audience very much in that moment, the screen goes black, and a man announces “NEWS ON THE MARCH!” I’m sure Welles wanted to see everyone in the audience jump out of their seats a little (it’s not the only time there’s a big swing in volume). Another uncomfortable moment is the party after Kane acquires the dream team from The Inquirer’s rival newspaper. The music and dancing is frenzied and manic with awkward close-ups of Mr. Bernstein and Leland. I found these moments were amplified on the big screen, and the audience did jump out of their seats.
Is Citizen Kane the Greatest Movie Ever Made? No. I will say that it is quite possibly the greatest film to get away with mocking the biggest and most powerful media tycoon. Welles accomplished an almost impossible feat and ultimately suffered because of it. He didn’t get the credit he deserved. Recently, Carly from The Kitty Packard Pictoral tweeted that boy-toy Taylor Lautner has his handprints/footprints on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. Do you know who doesn’t? Orson Welles. I’m sure Citizen Kane has a lot to do with that.
If Citizen Kane isn’t the greatest then what is? To be perfectly honest, I don’t think there can be a film with the distinction of being “The Greatest Movie Ever Made.” What’s so wonderful about movies is that they have different impressions on different people. Maybe a person is fond of a movie because of the experience they had when they watched it. Maybe they were on a first date with their future spouse/partner, or maybe they watched it with a beloved relative (see Michael Nazarewycz’s recent essay at Classic Film and TV Cafe). Maybe a person hates a film because it reminds them of a horrible time in their life. That’s what makes a movie so special. The viewer decides what is the greatest…to them. Yes, some films surpass the norm to become masterpieces and perfect examples of a particular style of acting, directing or genre. To say there is one film that surpasses them all to become the greatest, I don’t think so.
Cary Grant had style. Actually, Cary Grant has style. When discussing men’s fashion, his name most assuredly enters the conversation. He could transform the simplest of clothes into fashionable and iconic looks. CG never made many historical films, and the few he made were disasters at the box office. Why? Because he was a modern man. He was timeless, ageless, and ultimately comfortable in his threads.
I could write an entire book on Grant’s style, but Richard Torregrossa has already done a marvelous job of that with his book Cary Grant: A Celebration of Style. Since I cannot be as comprehensive as Torregrossa, I will settle for highlighting some of my favorite CG looks along with anecdotes pulled from Torregrossa’s book, other publications on Grant, and my own observations.
First, here are a few tidbits about Cary Grant that relate to his sense of style:
• CG modeled himself after two men: Noël Coward and Douglas Fairbanks. For his sophisticated looks and manners, Coward was the inspiration. For the muscular, athletic, acrobatic side, Fairbanks.
• CG had a very large, muscular neck. He often attributed his neck’s size to the years he spent as an acrobatic performer in The Pender Troupe. He was self conscious about his neck and always made sure to draw attention away from it. In his films and in real life, Grant can almost always be seen wearing either a tie, scarf, or neckerchief. When he did not have on a piece of neckwear, he usually kept his shirts buttoned to the top or the back of his collar popped up. The majority of his clothing was custom made and he often requested the collars of his dress shirts be wider to better conceal his neck.
• Many of the custom pieces in Grant’s personal wardrobe were made by tailors from the famous Saville Row in London. He spared no expense as long as he could be assured of the quality. He bought clothing that would last. When his shirt collars and cuffs would start to show wear, like all shirts inevitably do, Grant would sometimes send them back to the tailors to have that portion replaced. Some call it cheap, I call it being savvy. With footwear he favored brogues. He can often be seen wearing brown and black brogues with many different styles and colors of suits.
• Early on in his career when he was still under contract to Paramount Studios, Grant struggled to find the right look and fit with his suits. For one, he was still developing his style. Also there were limitations to many of the suits that were made then–mainly with freedom of movement. Many of the suit coats had no venting, which created a lumpy mess with the simplest of movements, like putting a hand in a pocket. Grant worked with his tailors and staff in wardrobe to create vented suits. Most of his jackets had extra long custom vents to allow for maximum movement while giving him a taller and leaner look. This was perfected with the tuxedo Grant wears in the Highland Dance scene in Stanley Donen’s Indiscreet and more famously with the grey suit in North By Northwest.
• Grant wore women’s nylon panties. I have read this in many books about him. Some of the authors try to attribute this to some weird fetish he supposedly had, but I believe Richard Torregrossa has the best explanation. There were no briefs or boxer briefs, only boxer shorts which would bunch up. After years of aggravation, CG finally discovered that nylon panties provided enough support, was flattering to the male anatomy, and didn’t show through clothing. Ok, then!
Early on in CG’s career, he was still discovering his sense of style. He didn’t get much chance to experiment in his first several films because 1) he didn’t have the clout, and 2) he mainly played the pretty boy in a tuxedo and top hat. Many of these films were the scraps that remained after Gary Cooper had his top pick. When not in those damn tuxedos, Grant incorporated a timeless classic into his wardrobe: the pull over sweater. Paired with a collared shirt and sometimes a scarf, this look was casual yet sophisticated.
The Exposed Neck
As I already noted, Grant was self conscious of his neck size. He went to great lengths to conceal it, but there were times when he allowed its exposure. I don’t know about you, but I find his neck to be quite nice.
This is one of my favorite photos of CG, taken in 1932 by photographer Imogene Cunningham. Not only does it ooze sex, it shows a more vulnerable side of Grant. I know this is a beefcake shot, but to me it is pure art. Absolute perfection.
This photo is from the most famous scene in Howard Hawks’s Bringing Up Baby. Grant’s character David Huxley is a nerdy scientist who is socially awkward around everyone except a fossilized dinosaur. He is uptight, a little frumpy, and isn’t concerned at all with his looks. When David is forced to wear a frilly women’s robe, he suddenly has sex appeal. Why? The audience knows that he is completely naked under that robe. His hair is slightly disheveled and his neck is exposed.
The submarine might sink, but CG is going to look sexy in the process. It’s not often we see a bare chested Cary. It’s a shame because he pulls the off the look very well. If you take a closer look, he is wearing a gold necklace. This is a piece of CG’s personal jewelry. He wore it every day and it can be seen in several of his films. The necklace had charms that represented the religious beliefs of each of his wives. Of course at this point Cary had only been married twice, so there were only two charms. By the end of his life, the necklace had a total of five.
99% of the time Cary looked perfect. Clothing freshly pressed and coordinated, face clean shaven, and not a single hair out of place. However, even style gods make mistakes.
This is a publicity still of Grant as Matt Howard in the 1940 historical drama The Howards of Virginia. Not the best look for Grant and he knows it. If you have seen the film, it is obvious that he is not incredibly comfortable in the role.
Thankfully Grant only made one other historical drama after Howards: the steaming pile The Pride and the Passion. One cannot fault him for taking the role, especially with the great Stanley Kramer as director, close friend Frank Sinatra as a costar, and his lover Sophia Loren as the leading lady. Sexytime aside, this is not a good look for our modern man.
The Hitchcock Era For many people, the iconic Cary Grant consists of a combination of Johnny Aysgarth, T.R. Devlin, John Robie, and Roger Thornhill. These four identities make up what we know as the quintessential Hitchcock leading man.
In Hitchcock’s Notorious, Grant’s character Devlin may be troubled, but he always looks like a million bucks. Even faced with great peril, his suiting is perfect. One important thing to note: while Grant’s clothing is immaculate, it never overshadows him. He wears the clothes, the clothes do not wear him. They are merely an extension of his personality and his character’s personality.
This is one of the few times we see Grant without neckwear. Although he is tie-less, Grant’s neck does not look large because of his patterned jacket. He’s also got on his angry face because his lady has lots of “playmates.”
The pinstripe suit that Grant wears at the end of Notorious is my favorite of the whole film. It gives him the appearance of being taller which is important for the impending showdown with Sebastian (Claude Rains) on that infamous staircase. I also love how Alicia (Ingrid Bergman) is grabbing onto the lapel.
When filming the 1952 thriller To Catch a Thief, Hitchcock trusted Grant to select his wardrobe. Above is an example of one of the ensembles: A simple striped pullover with foulard neckerchief, a look that inspired a fashion trend in the 1950s and today ranks as one of Grant’s most iconic looks.
This is one of my all time favorite shots of Grant. This outfit is so simple and sophisticated. Again, he uses the neckerchief as an accessory. Any man who dresses like this on a beach day is doing everything right. No wonder Frances (Grace Kelly) is so eager in her pursuit.
The grey suit. It still influences men’s fashion to this day. The color and cut of the suit is incredibly flattering on Grant’s body. He looked taller and leaner and the color brought out the silver in his hair. After almost driving off a rocky cliff, murder at the U.N., a one night stand on a train, and running from a rogue bi-plane, the grey suit needs only to be sponged and pressed.
In real life, Grant’s style was a combination of all his characters, especially those he played for Hitchcock. Once he was an established star, he brought his own style with him in the roles he played. This is an example of his head to toe perfection. Everyone wants to be him or be with him.