Monday, 4 July 2011

The Notorious Ladies of the Silver Screen

It is hard to explain, but there is something about the classic ladies of the past that makes my heart leap with excitement every time they appear on screen. It’s a combination of admiration, being inspired by them and wanting to be their best friend and have have a chat over dinner and some wine. 

Looking at the red carpet of the latest Oscar ceremony, not one of the ladies on it, even those I like, had that kind of impact over me. The few actresses that are still alive that have this affect on me are older than is usually allowed on the silver screen. 

As you may have noticed (gentle reader? I think I'm done with that now) from my previous post, my first lady is Ingrid Bergman. Mostly in her wonderful role as Alicia Huberman in Notorious, but Bergman has a certain quality that really brings out great affection out of me. 
She’s not the most beautiful woman I’ve seen but there is something quite captivating about her. To me she embodies both weakness and strength in a most heart warming way. She is a bit of a child and a bit of a woman and I love that about her.  

I give you my favourite women of the silver screen.

Rita Hayworth – “I can never get a zipper to close. Maybe that stands for something”  

It might be an obvious choice, but Rita Hayworth, for me, is Gilda more than any other part she played.

The first thing that comes to my mind is just how beautiful Rita Hayworth is. No but really, she is stunning! It might be the black and white, but to me Hayworth is one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen. She makes the screen light up when she appears and I can't take my eyes of her. Hayworth is all woman. She is graceful, glamorous and sexy without loosing her class and elegance. Even when eating a massive sandwich with passion she still looks amazing! I can't explain just how happy this picture makes me. I have a special kind of love for a glamorous woman who enjoys food.

Gilda is a testament to what a truly beautiful woman can get away with. Gilda’s behaviour in the film is almost as bad as Alicia’s. Considering Gilda was married and Alicia single, one might say Gilda is worse. Yet she doesn’t get treated the same. Yes Gilda was kept prisoner by the man she loves, as a revenge for all the pain she caused him so, with reason, even if not exactly justified. This is a walk in a park compared with Alicia who was forced to work for the government, pressured to a marriage and eventually poisoned, all mostly to make up for her father's crimes and a little bit because she is a bit Notorious.

Gilda has plenty of character as well, it's not ALL about the looks. She is impulsive and emotional. Despite acting like a strong woman, she breaks a lot quicker than Alicia. I find it comforting that an amazing woman like her, who is beautiful (have I mentioned how beautiful she is?), smart and talented (Gilda is a singer and a dancer), seems to be in control, but is in fact she is as emotionally messed up as us little people.

Rita Hayworth is the kind of woman I would like to hang out with to feel a bit of glam and hope maybe some of it will rub over me.

Lauren Bacall – “I’m hard to get, Steve. All you have to do is ask me.” 

Her first role and the film where she met the love of her life, is my defining role of Lauren Bacall. If ever there was a strong woman Slim, from To Have and to Have Not is one, and if there was ever a dignified woman, Lauren Bacall is one.

Slim (Marie Browning) is amazing in every way. Always ready with a comeback and leaving Steve (Humphrey Bogart) two steps behind. At the same time you can feel her falling in love with him as the film progress. 

Slim is the only woman I know, of that era, who is completely confident, independent and yet feminine and gentle. She will never marry the wrong man to make the man she loves jealous like Gilda. She doesn’t play games. More importantly she doesn’t let the man play any games either (like Alicia). 

Lauren Bacall, or her image in my mind, always was of a grown, confident almost aristocratic woman. The men in her life were the coolest men of their time. She married her first love, Humphrey Bogart and stayed with him until he died. She had a short affair with Frank Sinatra, and married (and divorced) Jason Robards, who looks uncannily like Bogart. As handsome and cool as these men were, their involvement with Lauren Bacall makes them a little bit cooler in my view. Despite Sinatra's reputation as a womaniser, and Robards' Alcoholism that lead to Bacall's divorce from him, her reputation remains classy and noble. 

Even as an older woman Bacall had the kind of charm and air about her. I remember watching Michael Parkinson falling in love with her as he interviewed her. Who can blame him really? Sadly I couldn't find a clip of the Parky interview.

Slim is a woman I would like as a friend. I think she could be my rock if I was down. She can take care of herself as well as other needier women.
Lauren Bacall is the kind of woman I would like to learn from.

There are many more Black & White ladies that left a lasting impression over me, but I will only mention Katherine Hepburn, who is my favourite Hepburn and Tracy Lord, the character she plays in The Philadelphia Story. Hepburn is one of my favourite actresses, talented and funny. Tracy Lord is just crazy, but in a good way. Just watch the film! 

With the exception of Lauren Bacall most of my favourite ladies have passed. All of them belong to an era that has long gone. Now I give you my ladies of today, or arguably the ladies of several years back.   

Julia Roberts – “I’m Sorry I meant to say, this f***ing shoes are killing me.” 

Admittedly not all of Roberts’ films are great, which is a real shame because she kinda is.
Like Rita Hayworth, I find Julia Roberts quite stunning. It is almost as if she comes from those Black & White films and brought their glamour with her. Her famous smile makes her and everyone around her radiant. No other actress today, in my opinion of course, is as breathtakingly beautiful as Julia. A bit like the Doctor (Who), she is the last of her kind.

Unlike Rita and other glam girls of the time, Roberts is best known for playing the most common women characters, which, as time goes by, gets harder to pull of. Never in my life have I seen a hooker as beautiful as Julia Roberts. I think most viewers haven’t either. People have stopped buying into this illusion, which is why she had to take different kind of roles.

I like the illusion. My personal favourite is the fiery Daisy Arujo from Mystic Pizza. That was the first Julia Roberts film I have seen and as the angry teenager I was, I was immediately drawn to her. I love this contrast between Roberts’ looks and the characters she plays.  

There is something quite gentle and about Julia Roberts, which works nicely for me with the roughness of the characters she plays. It's hard for me to explain why, but I prefer my Julia a bit rough on the edges (the inuendo is only slightly intended). I think her gentleness helps me relate to her anger and cynicism more than I would if there was an angry feminist in her place. Surprisingly she gets gentler and softer as she gets older.

I think Daisy and I would have got along like a house on fire when I was a teenager. Together we would have been disappointed and angry at the world for not giving us a chance.

I can't say I get the same feeling from Julia Roberts. I love her, and I love looking at her, but, since Daisy she hasn’t really played a character that wowed me as much, which is a shame because I think she is very talented. I think my love for Julia Roberts is because she is pretty more than anything else.

Emma Thompson – “I love you with so much of my heart, that none of it is left to protest”

Ho Emma! What a wonderful woman. I think what strikes me most about Emma Thompson is that she looks genuinely happy most of the time. I of course have no way of confirming her actual mood at all times, but I like to believe she is.Whether it is real happiness or not (it's real), I think this is Emma Thompson's secret.

When I think of Emma Thompson I always think of the final scene in Sense and Sensibility. It's not my favourite film of hers, but that scene captures Thompson's magic in my view, she owns the scene. Hugh Grant gives a speech and confesses his love for her, but I didn't really care. Her happiness and relief at that moment makes all the rest unimportant. 

Apologies for the lack of sync in this clip, it is the only one I could find. 
Emma's powers work without sync as well I think.

Naturally I chose for Emma, my favourite Shakespeare woman, who is of course Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing. Emma Thompson was the second woman I have seen bring to life this brilliant character (The first is The Nathalie, a fine woman herself, who played her in a school play).

There is not much I can say about Beatrice that hasn’t probably been said about this unique woman for her time. I will just say that when I watched the film I thought Emma and Kenneth are forever. The perfect couple. Considering her past with Hugh Laurie and the fact she brought him together with Stephen Fry, I also thought she knows all the right men. Lucky woman! She may have not stayed with Kenneth forever, but I approve of her current husband.

With or without a husband Emma Thompson continues to shine whatever she does. She makes me happy just watching her. This makes her, in my eyes, a special kind of beautiful.

The only other woman of films I would like to mention is Liz Smith, who is kind of a hero of mine. I became aware of her when she was on television for playing the role of Nana at the Royle Family. However Liz Smith has started her career (at the impossible age for women in films of 50+) in Mike Leigh's film Bleak Moments which I still haven't seen. 

Her story and her amazing personality have been an inspiration to me. She got her first break at an age when most silver screen women forced to retire and she hasn't got an ounce of bitterness in her about that. I haven't seen enough of her films sadly, but I read her autobiography, Our Betty and to me, Liz Smith is a super star. 

These are the kind of ladies I wish I could see on the red carpet. I have a special place in my heart for each of those women, and they each represent something I wish I could have, something I can relate to and understand and something I look for in the women I give myself to for a couple of hours. 



  1. Eloquent, but don't wish Lauren Bacall away! She is still with us, or was when I last looked...

  2. Oh dear you're right. For some reason I thought I read she died in 2003. I shall correct this immediately.

  3. I have corrected the mistake. I seem to have confused Bacall with Katherine Hepburn. Apologies for that.