I've already read the 1001 versions of books and movies (and slowly going through them), so as a big horror fan I thought I should check this cute litI've already read the 1001 versions of books and movies (and slowly going through them), so as a big horror fan I thought I should check this cute little pocket-sized volume. I knew there wouldn't be much left to watch (eleven, turns out), so I was mostly just curious to see which films had been included.
I was pleasantly surprised about the mixture of mainstream and lesser-known stuff, but of course there were, once again, the same films from the 20s and 30s that are always included in every single list, and only one from the 1910s. Which is wrong, by the way, because The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari premiered in 1920 and the shooting didn't conclude until January 1920. How, then, could it have been released in 1919? Besides, aren't there really no good horror films from the 1910s? I just can't believe it, so I must investigate this further.
Steven Katz's essay about Dracula (1931) is refreshingly scathing (Tod Browning is one of my favorite directors, but Dracula is hands down one of his worst films, in addition to being one of the flattest one about the count). Then again, Katz also claims Lon Chaney was in Freaks (1932) (he probably means The Unknown ), which is a mistake that should have been caught during editing. Not an important one, but still. Katz also thinks London is a baffling relocation for Dracula (in the essay about Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992), but is it really? It was the Victorian era, an era of prosperity and flourishing trade routes in Britain. Makes sense to me that the count chooses one of the most biggest and influential cities in the world as his new home.
Dejan Ognjanovic, in turn, has a disparaging view of pulp literature (at least it sounds like it, when he calls Dennis Wheatley's novel The Devil Rides Out (1934) his "usual sensationalistic meandering pulp"), yet he seems to have no problem with pulpy horror, because he likes the Hammer adaptation of Wheatley's novel. Mikel Koven has a pretty firm idea about those who dislike torture porn: "What media pundits who got their liberal knickers in a twist over the so-called "torture porn" controversy seem to forget is that what made these films so disturbing in the first place was that they were actually pretty good". First of all, you don't have to be liberal to dislike torture porn. Secondly, does Kaven mean that despite the disturbing aspect of the films in the subgenre he thinks they're good, and it's somehow wrong to dislike them? My taste good, your taste wrong.
The thing I have the biggest issue with are the spoilers. As far as I recall, 88 texts out of 101 (I decided not to read about the eleven films I haven't seen when I realized they might contain spoilers as well) managed to avoid spoilers (and it really isn't difficult to go round a plot point or the ending). The Sixth Sense (1999) and The Vanishing (1988) were another story (there were actually a few more that I now see other reviewers spotted, as well as a few other mistakes). Ok, knowing the ending of the former might dilute the second viewing (I don't like it that much anyway), but in the case of the latter...
The Vanishing is just as powerful after multiple viewings, but the first time is everything. Everything that occurs before that sickening moment of realization at the end is of course stellar in its subtleness, but the film as a whole relies on gripping the viewer by the throat. There isn't anything that hints what might happen, so one can't use the old "but it's great to see the journey that leads to the ending, and wait when it will happen and whether it's foreshadowed" -thing as an excuse (for me, that's something that reminds me of a rewatch or reread; Agatha Christie might occasionally be an exception, if I remember the murderer), and that's what makes the movie brilliant. Making sure a whole experience isn't ruined from those who don't want it is simply polite, even if you're okay with spoilers. It should also not be presumed that every single person in the world knows the ending of every single classic film or book out there, because it's not about the age.
Regardless, 101 Horror Movies shows pretty well the progress of horror cinema since the beginning of the 20th century. The essays are mostly of good quality, and a few inspired me to rewatch my old favorites and those that I've considered mediocre at best. I'm also extremely excited to have found out that there's an actual name for films featuring older women becoming mentally unstabled: psycho-biddy (also referred to, according to Wikipedia, as Grande Dame Guignol, Hagsploitation, and Hag horror). Makes it so much easier to search for more films belonging to the subgenre. Bette Davis is my queen, and she's amazing in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), but I'm convinced there are more gold pieces waiting for me out there....more
When I was a kid, there was this one time when I woke up in the middle of the night and the pile of clothes on my chair looked suspiciously like someWhen I was a kid, there was this one time when I woke up in the middle of the night and the pile of clothes on my chair looked suspiciously like some deformed monster, and I quickly dove under the covers. Fortunately, I'm really good at the whole sleeping thing, so I fell asleep quickly. I also used to have an irrational fear of vampires for a few days when I was little, which made me cover my neck every night when I went to bed, but that's a different story. I rarely had any troubles with sleep or fear, or both of them together.
Then, a couple of years ago when I was already living in my own apartment, I suffered a bout of sleep paralysis. I think I was at a stage when I was about to wake up, but I couldn't move or fully open my eyes. I saw my eyelashes flickering in front of my eyes, and then I saw a shadow on the wall. It didn't have a familiar form, just this blotch that was both oily and fuzzy at the same time, but I remember being convinced that it would attack me if I didn't run away right there and then. Obviously, the fact that I couldn't move horrified me, and I felt like I was stuck in another realm. I wanted to scream, but only a tear ran down my cheek. It didn't feel like reality at all, although I knew I was still in my apartment. At some point I just fell asleep and everything was back to normal again when I woke up.
I know that none of what I saw was real, so it's strange that you can actually have an experience where you fully believe in monsters (it's also not that comforting to know that you can't stop sleep paralysis from coming; if it comes back, it comes back). Wells's short story brought all that back to me. It's a very conventional story about a man who doesn't believe in ghosts and wants to stay in a haunted room. The ending falls flat and I expected more from the actual haunting, but the approach is interesting. It's up for the reader to decide what really happened, because the first person narrative allows room for interpretation.
It's all about the power of imagination and suggestion, and what being alone in a supposedly haunted place, with only shadows as your company, might do to you. The shadows might hide something or they may not, but the human mind is nevertheless able to change innocent things into something else, especially if there's complete silence and solitude. Also, would the narrator have had the same experiences if he hadn't known about the room's past or heard the stories about ghosts? Fear is an interesting thing, because it can suddenly creep up on you even when there's no reason to be frightened.
"There is neither ghost of earl nor ghost of countess in that room; there is no ghost there at all, but worse, far worse, something impalpable—"
"Well?" they said.
"The worst of all the things that haunt poor mortal men," said I; "and that is, in all its nakedness—' Fear!' Fear that will not have light nor sound, that will not bear with reason, that deafens and darkens and overwhelms. It followed me through me in the room—"
Mysteries, scandals, and murders of Hollywood, particularly the Golden Age ones, are always interesting, but they can easily be turned into embarrassiMysteries, scandals, and murders of Hollywood, particularly the Golden Age ones, are always interesting, but they can easily be turned into embarrassingly smutty books. All the warning bells should be ringing when an author has added Wikipedia articles, TMZ stories, and E! programs to the bibliography section. Di Mambro's decided to dig herself into a hole by also having a minimum amount of criticism about the statements of her sources. It's commendable that she's managed to made the effort to interview some of the people involved (and it shows that she's wanted to try something different than Kenneth Anger with his Hollywood Babylon ), but there's no sign that she doesn't take their stories at anything but face value.
The description "[a] tantalizing mixture of classic Hollywood nostalgia and true crime" is spot on. Di Mambro presents the basic facts of each case and doesn't take sides, which might seem like her purpose of letting the reader to make conclusions about the events has been successful, but in reality it takes more to make a good work of true crime. "Tantalizing" is not the way to go, especially if it means the chapters begin with "the sun glistening off the Pacific Ocean, which sparkled like limitless diamonds" or some equally awkward statement about the weather that in the middle of neutral text feels like a splinter in the eye. Add to that several cases of repetition and you start to miss a good editor.
True Hollywood Noir isn't entirely without its merits, though. In a few instances Di Mambro manages to correct a few rumours and is overall respectful towards the people. The corruption of the police force and how the studio executives were involved with tampering evidence are discussed very candidly. Protecting actors and actresses was important to the studios, but there's no question that protecting the studios' image the big bosses wanted to maintain in the eyes of the public to get more money was also a good motivator.
It's just unfortunate that the impression I got from the book overall wasn't polished or professional, even though Di Mambro avoids a voyeuristic and sleazy voice. Furthermore, I'd be curious to know where she found the information that Joan Bennett claimed to have begun the affair with Jennings Lang when she was ill, despite the fact that she has always denied having an affair with him.
Other illogicalities and choices that Di Mambro doesn't explain occur throughout, like referencing Bill Wellman's It's Made to Sell - Not to Drink (2006) (there's no reason to presume that Wellman is telling the truth, especially this day and age when there are plenty of people who'd like to cash in on celebrities), saying that shooting Lang helped Wanger's career despite stating earlier that his life was never the same again, and claiming that the reader supposely has never heard the story that Lana Turner was the real killer of Johnny Stompanato when in fact it's been speculated for years and is a well-known theory.
On another level of feeling uncomfortable was the stench of admiration that emanated from the Mickey Cohen chapter. He may have known movie stars and other celebrities, but there's no valid reason for an overly long chapter about him, and certainly no reason why Cohen's associate Jim Smith would deserve so much space, especially because all he does is explain away Cohen's crimes and make him seem like some charismatic gentleman who just happened to kill people for a living. Doesn't matter if the people deserved their fate in the world of organized crime, it's still murder.
Di Mambro seems to be supporting Smith, though, and even calls Smith's voice as "smooth, baritone [and] suitable for broadcasting". I'm not even going to begin talking about the picture of Smith's son holding a toy machine gun, and him having it framed in his house and showing it proudly to mobsters. There's just a whole lot of irrelevancy going on in the Cohen chapter, and it was the last straw.
All in all, short and quick to breeze through, but I wouldn't expect anything revelationary, nor the film noir theme being tied into the cases in any relevant way....more
Susann knows how to sink her claws into the reader. Just when things seem to get better for our women and the future shines bright in the distance, soSusann knows how to sink her claws into the reader. Just when things seem to get better for our women and the future shines bright in the distance, something happens and the tunnel closes. Then some turn of events gets you believing again, and the roller coaster starts again and again and again... The circle of life turns into a circle of dolls and resentment.
Valley of the Dolls isn't a mushy romance that sinks into an abyss of paper-tasting plastic characters, who seem to melt under a tighter scrutiny, or a glossy, emotionally simplistic, and rose-tinted fairy tale world, where predictability is a given. Instead, it actually makes you invested in the characters, although they are practically one-dimensional vehicles of psychological exploration.
Both unrealistic with its cheesy plot twists which seem to occur only for shock value, and realistic with its oh-so-common story of downward spiralling lives in the show business, the story is structurally kind of a mess, but a glorious and trashy mess. The fact that I don't mind the heap of clichés dumped on me is a testament of Susann's genius.
Like with The Best of Everything (1958), I noticed that I can digest chick lit when it's set in another time period and has some kind of melancholy or tragic events involved. A retro Mad Men-ish backdrop has so much more value in terms of atmosphere (and basically the only reason why I decided to read this). Valley of the Dolls wouldn't be what it is if it wasn't set in 1940s-60s, or if it didn't have a hilarious cat fight in a ladies' room, self-destructive women popping pills in all the colors of the rainbow, dreams crashing and burning, struggles with fame and expectations concerning private and professional lives, loads of vodka and champagne, and men who are far from dreamy Fabios.
Girly pulp that doesn't make you want to vomit, but to have a cocktail or two and eat chocolate until your head explodes. Essentially, this is the glamorous and excessive cousin of Peyton Place (1956).
"Who wants respect? I want to get laid!" - Helen Lawson...more