Happy Birthday, Norma Jean!

Marilyn Monroe in an iconic image from The Seven Year Itch (Billy Wilder, 1955)

Just over 90 years ago now, Norma Jean Mortenson was born. Just under 70 years ago now, Marilyn Monroe had a Hollywood breakthrough. After modeling for years, taking on a stage name, seeing a voice coach, severely bleaching her hair, and acting in several small film roles, Monroe became a star. In fact, she went through a process not unlike other actresses in Hollywood at the time—name changes, surgery, cosmetic enhancements, dangerous diets, and more were the price many had to pay just for a chance at stardom. (more…)

Maya Deren’s Film Philosophy

Born April 29, 1917, this year would have been Maya Deren’s 100th birthday. In celebration of her contribution to experimental cinema, this video outlines some of the key principles informing Deren’s filmmaking. Deren wrote prolifically about her film practice, and the compilation of her writings – Essential Deren – has been one of my touchstones as a filmmaker since it was published in 2005.

The essays in Essential Deren contain both practical advice about shooting and editing, as well as Deren’s philosophical perspective toward filmmaking. I focus on the latter in my video.


Silence: Faith in the Father

Ferreira (Andrew Garfield) in Silence
Ferreira (Andrew Garfield) in Silence

[This blog post contains spoilers for the film Silence.]

Faith is, I think, the single most complex aspect of human existence in both belief and practice. I mean faith in both a secular and spiritual sense. Putting your trust in something bigger than yourself with no guarantee of reciprocation of any kind is something that seemingly goes against every instinct programmed into our DNA. We learn this in childhood. To have faith in the notion that when our guardians disappear to tend to other needs that they will return to take care of us once more. To have faith that our guardians will be able to provide for us when we can’t do so for ourselves. To have faith that these people will live up to what we consider the ideal for the rest of our lives. In this, religion and secular faith share a kinship: the relationship of the believer to a paternal figure. In many religions, higher powers take on the role of a mother or father, with Christianity leaning heavily on the patriarchal side of the equation. “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name” Christians (his children) chant in communion. The story of Jesus and his sacrifice to humanity, while being about a great many things, is heavily the story about a man and his internal and external conflict with the men he calls father and the sacrifice he makes for one of them. (more…)

The Exquisite Esther Williams

Esther Williams in Easy to Love (1953)
Esther Williams in Easy to Love (1953)

Guest post by Michaela Owens.

Let me start this by saying that it was a miracle I didn’t end up writing 10,000 words. When it comes to a woman named Esther Williams, I honestly can’t stop myself from blubbering. Strong, confident, funny, self-aware, and resilient, Esther Williams became an instant role model to me when my sister gave me her autobiography, The Million Dollar Mermaid, four years ago. She wasn’t the actress that Katharine Hepburn was, but she had the same work ethic. She wasn’t a celebrated comedienne like Myrna Loy was, but she had the same twinkle in her eye. She couldn’t dance like Rita Hayworth, but she had the same grace. We will never see the likes of Esther again because she was so wholly unique.

You’re probably asking “Why? What makes her so special?” As a champion swimmer, Esther (yes, I’m putting us on a first-name basis) was the centerpiece of a string of films called “aqua musicals.” The formula was simple: you had stunning Technicolor, simple yet fun musical numbers, a handsome leading man who wouldn’t outshine her, and most important of all, there would be a spectacular swimming routine or two. Esther’s movies are the epitome of escapism, and they made her a box office sensation and an MGM star for a little over a decade. They are completely fascinating and completely insane and I don’t know how you can’t love them. (more…)

A Conversation with Nzingha Kendall

Still From Autumn Song
Still From Autumn Song

This week A Place For Film editor Barbara Ann O’Leary had a chance to connect with Nzingha Kendall about her Four Seasons film installation taking place at the I Fell Building this Thursday, her commitment to supporting the work of experimental women filmmakers, and her engagement with IU Cinema.

BOL: You’ve been involved with IU Cinema as a filmmaker, a facilitator of Jorgensen Lecture conversation, a programmer of series and events, a guest blogger for A Place For Film and more. What inspires you to bring your time, insights, and energy to help the Cinema flourish?

NK: Given my deep commitment to promoting the work of independent women filmmakers—especially those of color—one of the main reasons I chose to come to IU for graduate school was the possibility of working at, and with, the Black Film Center/Archive and the IU Cinema. I had hoped that I might use my skills to bring programming related to these often under-appreciated artists to campus through collaborations with both units. Luckily, with the unstinting support of Jon Vickers and Brittany Friesner at the Cinema, and Michael Martin, Brian Graney, and Mary Huelsbeck at the BFC/A, I’ve been able to achieve this. My time at IU has been enriched by being involved with the BFC/A and the Cinema; both units are true gems on this campus. Just reading the list you’ve given, I’m amazed to see all the ways I’ve participated in the Cinema’s life over the past six years! (more…)

Vertigo As Fairy Tale Noir

Idiosyncratic films have an interesting relationship with genre. The fact that they are so unique separates them from more formulaic movies. But more often than not idiosyncratic films bear traces of generic structures that make them palatable to audiences. Idiosyncratic films have the potential to create their own genres, but more often than not they create their own sub-genres.

This is most true of some of the greatest noir films. Brick is “high school noir,” Blade Runner is “tech noir,” and as my professor Tim Bell once said, The Big Lebowski is “stoner noir.” Most of these sub-genres apply to multiple films, in particular tech and stoner noir. But there is one noirish film that created a subgenre so particular that it only has one entry: Vertigo. (more…)