She Said Svengali vs. The Board of Education – Part 1

Posted in On the Dockett with tags , , , , , , , on April 16, 2011 by shesaidsvengali

There was a time I swore I was done with higher learning. I would never go back – Never! Never! Never! But here I am, a couple of years later, having been cured of my insanity through the careful use of Levithyroxin, contemplating the very thing I was so dead set against. Why? It ain’t the money – that’s for sure. What kind of money could there possibly be in having an M.A. in English? They’re a dime a dozen and with the bleak state of the union I have my doubts as to whether anyone graduating with an M.A. in anything is getting a decent return on their investment. So, why bother?

The reasons are many. I love Dr. Yeager with a zeal I’ve seldom had for a teacher. My MO has always been “I love that teacher because I am in love with that teacher.” Granted, they were all usually very intelligent and talented instructors, but there was always a strange component of Lolita-esque daddy issues/hero-worship at play there. Not so with Dr. Yeager. I simply think he is one of the kindest, down to earth, and brilliant instructors I have ever had. I never knew I could or would give a damn about Chaucer until I was in Dr. Yeager’s Chaucer class. I never thought I would be interested in learning Old English or reading Beowulf more than once until I sat in this man’s lectures and became completely immersed in the language, works, and culture of what were ultimately my forefathers.

I went to college thinking I was going to get a PhD in either Art History (specializing in German Expressionism) or English (becoming a Nabokov scholar). As the years went by and I took more of Dr. Yeager’s classes, Nabokov seemed to matter less and less. Art History was right out. I could see myself speaking Old English and poring over ancient tomes of vellum in some dusty library at Oxford. I would write compelling papers about the role of the outsider in Anglo-Saxon culture and his effect on comitatus. I would be respected and, if nothing else, an interesting and much sought after dinner party guest.

But the reality of the situation was that I was slowly but surely losing my mind. By the time my last semester of college arrived I was a complete and utter mess – barely making it to classes and just scraping by. I was trying to learn Old English and German at the same time, all while trying not to go to pieces on a daily basis. I would go from laughing to crying in a matter of seconds and it was clear to all that maybe this college thing wasn’t my strong suit. As my mental state deteriorated, the English Department had a front row seat to my unraveling. I was committed two weeks before the end of the semester. As a result (Thank God!) I was given an extension to finish up my course work the following semester. With that, I managed to earn my B.A. with a GPA somewhere in the neighborhood of a 3.0 (more or less). Not great, but not abysmal either – unless of course you have ideas of grad school.

At the time, I didn’t. I was over school. It was a sham. An obscene waste of money. I was angry, hurt, resentful. No one had done anything to make me feel this way. Everyone had been nothing but helpful, understanding, and accommodating. I was mad at myself. I had not performed well in college and I had my transcripts to prove it. Transcripts don’t tell the story of the 80+ hour a week care giving job. They know nothing of the emotional and psychological black hole I wandered into in my second year. They have no idea how hard I worked to get my slightly higher than mediocre grades while trying to stave off the insanity that was slowly consuming all other areas of my life. The only story they had to tell was of an A or two, lots of Bs, and a C in German. With grades like those, top-tier schools are not an option.

I am the kind of person who sees in black and white. “Well, if it’s not going to be Yale, then forget about it”. At any rate, I was never going to get a teaching position in grad school – without that, what good is it? So, I did what any girl in my situation would have done; I moved to another state with my fiancé and tried to find a job. That worked out so well, being that all this went down just as the economy started to crumble. I sent out hundred – literally hundreds – of resumes. I never heard back from even one. I was a kid fresh out of college with a liberal arts degree living in the Triangle area of North Carolina. Technical jobs, one and all.

It was a hopeless endeavor, which did very little for my mental state, let me tell you. At this time, we all thought I was bipolar. So, there I was, sitting around alone in my apartment all day while my fiancé was at college, looking for jobs and thinking “What the hell happened? I went to college. College = job. Why can’t I find a job. College is a lie, perpetuated by the liberal media.” Oh, I was mad. I was bitter. I hated life. Most of all, I hated the fact that I had spent so much time and money at university and it had clearly done me no good.

After about a year of living like this, my fiancé became “Leftenant Snicklefritz” upon his graduation from college. He was going to have a steady job, and we were going to get married. I wasn’t happy about my employment status, but I could live. I would be a housewife, with all that entailed. I still didn’t want to go back to school – useless institution that it was.

Then, everything changed. Two weeks after we got married, I got pregnant. Two weeks after we found out, Lt. Snickles was off to Officer Basic. Two weeks after that – I found out that I had hypothyroidism. It didn’t seem like such a big deal at the time. They gave me some meds to manage my thyroid being that I was pregnant. They mentioned that it might help with any anxiety issues. Two weeks after that, I felt like a new person. I could think clearly. The fog that I felt I had been living in for years, lifted. I was reading books again. I was able to *gasp* GET THINGS DONE. I felt like an entirely different person, and it was GREAT.

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Intermezzo – 1936

Posted in Film, Foreign Language with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 8, 2010 by shesaidsvengali

Intermezzo - 1936

It is with a heavy heart that I come to you today. I had so hoped to share with you Intermezzo, the film that launched Ingrid Bergman to international fame. Originally filmed in 1936, this Swedish film was remade in America in 1939, and to my utter disgust, that’s the only copy of it I can find online. I couldn’t even find a better picture to use than the one you see to your left. Why it was necessary to remake this film, I will never know. I suppose reading subtitles was far too much to ask of an English-speaking audience at the time. While the remake does utilize the talents of legendary cinematographer Gregg Toland (of Citizen Kane fame) I question whether it can compare to the original.  At least we have the success Intermezzo to thank in both of its incarnations for launching Bergman’s career. Without it, who knows who may have starring with Bogey in Casablanca.

Since I can’t give you a link to the original Swedish version, I suppose that I will have to make due with the English remake. I can’t say much about the remake as I have never seen it, but if it’s anything like the original, it is worth a viewing based on the story alone. In the original, Bergman plays Anita Hoffman, a piano teacher who falls in love with her pupil’s father, Holger Brandt (played by Gosta Ekman), an internationally renowned concert violinist. Brandt leaves his family for a torrid love affair with Anita, and takes her on tour as his accompanist. It isn’t long before Anita realizes that Brandt’s place is not with her, but with his wife and children and that their relationship was nothing more than a brief “intermezzo” in his life. It’s a beautiful interpretation of what would be referred to today as a midlife crisis. You wind up really feeling for all the characters, even if some of them were less than noble at times.

I highly recommend this film based on the fact that we all go through an “intermezzo” from time to time. I’m not advocating leaving your family – quite the contrary in fact. If anything, this film illuminates the fact that although we may feel at times that we need a change it is important to remember what is the most important in your life. Affairs never end well and even if you have the best of intentions it can only end in tears. To quote the eloquent words of Rod Stewart: “Why, oh why – would you give it all up for a moment of glory?” If anyone would know, it would be Rod.

If you are ever able to get your hands on a copy of the 1936 version, buy it. Watch it. Suck it up and read the subtitles. Until then, I grudgingly bring you Intermezzo: A Love Story. *Gag*
 
 
Glücklicher Geburtstag, Leibchen.
 

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Posted in Film, Horror with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2010 by shesaidsvengali
Author’s Note:      

In an effort to help first time viewers to watch the film Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari with as little knowledge of the plot as possible, there will be no links included in this blog entry. If you are planning to view this film, I beg you, please don’t research it beforehand. While it might not entirely ruin the experience for you, I feel it will diminish it. There was a time when you could have a “cold viewing” and I am advocating a return to that type of viewership. Thank you.      

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari - 1920

 

German expressionism is by and large my favorite movement in art. Prior to my discovery of this genre I was a card-carrying Surrealism fan, but after viewing Kirchner’s Self Portrait as a Soldier, I became enamoured of the German Expressionist Movement. To be fair, Kirchner’s painting was just a small part of a documentary I viewed in my Humanities class in college, but the image of the soldier with no hand has stayed with me. I was also pleased to discover that as well as painting and literature, film played a large part in the expressionist movement in Germany and wouldn’t you know it, some of my all time favorite films were expressionist films. The most beloved of these, is Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari.     

Made in 1920 by Robert Weine and starring Conrad Veidt Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari is what you might call an exercise in intellectual intercourse. The film begins with a young man named Francis telling his elderly companion about the strange events that he and his fiancé, Jane, have experienced. Then a flashback sequence begins in which we meet Dr. Caligari, a mountebank, and his somnambulist, Ceasare, who make their living as a sideshow act. Ceasare’s eternal sleep allows him to see the future which Caligari capitalizes on in his sideshow act. Interested in what Ceasare might see in their future, Francis and his friend Alan go to the show, but quickly regret their curiosity when Ceasare informs Alan that he will die at dawn. Sadly, the prophesy is fulfilled and the rest of the film consists of Jane and Francis trying to get to the bottom of what is going on with Caligari and Ceasare.     

A set design from "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari"

 

While I hesitate to say much with regard to the plot of the film, I will comment on the aesthetic aspect of the film. I don’t know about you, but I love things that are visually engaging. That’s why I prefer Fox News to CNN, despite my left leaning philosophy. Fox is just more interesting to look at. Whoever is in charge of aesthetics over there is doing a really good job. I digress – my point here is that Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari is a beautiful, arresting, and engaging film. It’s silent, and I know that can be a tough sell for people who have never been exposed to such a thing, but I am confident that if you give it a try you won’t be disappointed.     

Dr. Caligari, Ceasare, and Jane

 

I discovered Caligari sometime between my junior and senior year in high school and I am still amazed that anytime I watch it, I seem to discover something new. What they were able to achieve with matte painting and set construction is astounding considering the limited resources and materials available at the time. The sets are arguably characters in their own right and do as much to tell the story as the actors themselves. As a matter of fact, the “performance” of the set is definitely more engaging than that of the protagonist. Of course, that could be because I like a bad guy and the environment in which the story unfolds is a bad guy if ever I met one.  I am transported anytime I am presented with even a still from this film. It has captured my imagination and it haunts my sleep as only a truly fine piece of art could. This world of Caligari is a dark demon lurking deep in your subconscious just waiting to be discovered.     

The Internet Archive

Posted in FYI with tags , , , , , , , , on January 6, 2010 by shesaidsvengali
The Internet Archive Building

The Internet Archive Headquarters - San Francisco, CA.

 

At Virginia Underground, we love people who share our passion for historical preservation. That is why we are giving a shout out to The Internet Archive, a non-profit that houses thousands of films in the public domain. Why? In order to make it easier for all of us to view these wonderful pieces of history. Through their efforts, researchers, students, the disabled, and everyday film aficionados can watch classic films from the comfort of their own homes. Gone are the days of calling every video rental store within a one hundred mile radius just to get a copy of Le Voyage Dans La Lune. In addition to the films  preserved by The Internet Archive, you can also find books, websites, live music, and all manner of ephemera. The work done by the IA is truly wonderful. We encourage all of you to check out the site and let us know what you think.

Murder by Television

Posted in Murder Mystery with tags , , , , , on January 4, 2010 by shesaidsvengali

Murder by Television - 1935

I should begin here by telling you that I love Bela Lugosi. I don’t mean I love him like I love cloves, bad movies, or guitar feedback. Oh no, I love him with a lust that has surpasses time and space causing me to wonder if the desire to surrender my body to his visage on-screen makes me a necrophiliac or just a fan girl. I mean, I don’t want to make out with his bones or anything – but as he was on film – zounds! I don’t know what the fascination with William Powell and Clark Gable was; Bela Lugosi was clearly a walking streak of sex. So, it was out of my lust – I mean love for Mr. Lugosi that I chose to review the cinematic gem Murder by Television.

Haven’t heard of it? Well, who could blame you? Made in 1935, this B-rate flick of the highest order is as politically incorrect as it is technologically outlandish. The only reason to watch may be the fact that Lugosi is in it. The premise revolves around the newly invented television and the advent of mass broadcast. Inventor James Houghland has discovered the key to mass broadcast without the use of relays (although I don’t know how that would have been possible without satellites). The networks (also in their infancy) want this technology so much that they are willing to kill for it, leaving Houghland dead and the rest of the cast involved in a whodunit mystery reminiscent of the game CLUE!

Lugosi plays Houghland’s assistant, Arthur Perry, a rather small part, but still manages to give one of the best performances in the film. He is definitely the diamond in the rough when you compare his performance to some of the others. While it is sometimes hard to decipher what is going on with his character in the film, the fault lies not with Lugosi, but rather with the writing. Among the many story problems that become immediately evident is the fact that Lugosi’s accent marks him as an outsider, but no one seems to notice. It is as though he was just like everyone else, but with a speech impediment or something. It is very strange considering the racial atmosphere of the film.

Comic relief is provided by the antics of the wise cracking Chinese butler and the “mammy” style black cook. Upon further investigation, I discovered that this actress actually played “Mammy” in Gone with the Wind as well as many other similar parts throughout her career. While these two functioned well as comic relief, it was rather uncomfortable to watch them in these antiquated and brutally racist roles. It’s almost painful to watch, and it’s an interesting dichotomy to the avoidance of Lugosi’s “otherness”. Another instance of racial stereotyping can be seen in the portrayal of the bumbling Irish gardener, however, because his role is less prevalent the racism is not as glaring.

If the viewer is able to ignore the blatant racial prejudice present within the film, there is still the matter of complete and utter stupidity when it comes to the method of murder in this murder mystery. What was supposed to have been a heartening warning against the unknown powers of new technology looks ridiculous when judged by today’s standards. The characters in the film are marveling over television – meanwhile I can watch that self-same film on my Ipod while I am running on the treadmill at the gym. The premise is simply nonsensical. That said, if you are a fan of Lugosi or if you like watching ridiculous murder mysteries, you could do a lot worse than Murder by Television. From a technical aspect it is a decent film with fairly good production quality. The basic script elements are present and fleshed out. The issue with Murder by Television is that it is based on a really dumb idea.

And now, for your viewing pleasure, Murder by Television!

Welcome to “She Said Svengali”!

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , on January 3, 2010 by shesaidsvengali

Welcome to our little corner of the web where you can find all you ever wanted to know about classic public domain films! We will be updating 5 days a week with information and links to some of the best forgotten films of the past 100 or so years. If you have any suggestions for films to review or if you need some help locating that hard to find title, please feel free to comment on any post, or email us at virginiaunderground.com.

Get yourself some popcorn and I’ll be back soon with our first feature presentation!