I’ll be honest: 2013 wasn’t a red letter year for me as a cinema viewer. I only saw one movie on 35mm (Jerry Lewis’ Smorgasbord) and didn’t make it to any film festivals. Most of the movies I watched were either at a multiplex or on my laptop at home.
However, it was a rather nifty year for me as a cinephile. I moved to Brno, Czech Republic in July 2012 and was elated to discover that Edgar G. Ulmer was born less than an hour away from my new locale in a charming little city called Olomouc. My husband, dachshund, and I took a day trip to Olomouc in May 2013 and wandered around the outside of Ulmer’s childhood home during a particularly beautiful spring afternoon. The sound of train whistles echoed in the distance and the air smelled of lilacs. It was fun to try and imagine Ulmer as a young boy traipsing around the neighborhood, to try and piece together what might have sparked his interest in geometry and landscapes. Alas, nothing really stuck out, but I did happen upon some ominous black cat graffiti right around the corner from his home.
In July, I took another day trip, this time to Vienna. It was a blistering hot day, but my husband, dachshund, and I marched our sorry carcasses through Vienna to one of Fritz Lang’s Viennese homes. He lived there from 1909 to 1919, right around the time he was discharged from the army and started writing and directing. Unlike Ulmer, who apparently hated living in Olomouc, it was rather easy to picture a young Fritz Lang gallivanting up and down the picturesque, somewhat ritzy streets surrounding Piaristen-gasse. Though he only lived at that house for ten years, you could almost feel his presence there, almost see Joan Bennett standing on the street corner or see Sylvia Sydney heading up the stairs inside the building.
I hope to track down the addresses of Von Stroheim’s and Von Sternberg’s Viennese homes for my next trip. Sirk’s and Rossellini’s houses are also on my European director homestead bucket list. If anyone has their addresses, please let me know.
The following month, my mother visited me in Brno. I hadn’t seen her in many years and we had a great time together. Though she’s not really the adventurous type, I somehow convinced her to spend her last twenty-four hours in the CR exploring Prague with me. We checked her bags at the train station and walked across the city in order to see the epic Marilyn Monroe exhibit at Prague Castle. She’s the one who introduced me to Monroe’s movies and experiencing the exhibit with her is something I’ll never forget. We moseyed through displays of her photographs, letters, and various personal effects, including several of her own dresses and movie costumes. Though it was curated to show off the “image” of Monroe – the mystique, the myth – I tried my best to see through the manipulation and find the real Monroe vibe in the room. I think I succeeded. I got to see the scuffs on her Salvatore Ferragamo’s (and discovered we have the same shoe size), the worn-down clasps on the zippers of her dresses, and, my favorite, read a lovely letter she wrote to Lee Strasberg in December 1961 about the production company she wanted to form with him and Marlon Brando. It was painful to read about the big plans she had for her life, plans, that I suspect would have eventually included directing. The exhibit also featured eye-roll worthy artwork inspired by Monroe and a variety of archival footage and movie scenes projected on the walls surrounding the photos and clothing.
Entering the final section of the museum was like walking into a classic Hollywood daydream – many of her costumes, from the famous white Seven Year Itch dress to that green sequined getup from the wretched Bus Stop, were placed on mannequins positioned next to one another on a large stage. It was overwhelming to enter because it was like being in the presence of two dozen Marilyn Monroe’s at the same time. I stood less than a foot away from my favorite Monroe dress, the gorgeous soft silk pink gown from the “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” musical number in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, for what felt like hours. I wanted nothing more than to reach out and touch the smooth fabric, to feel a smidgeon of the glamour and grace she must have felt to wear such a beautiful thing.
I may or may not have actually done this when the guard wasn’t looking.
I don’t know about you guys, but I’m a romantic at heart. To be in the presence of places and objects that Edgar G. Ulmer, Fritz Lang, and Marilyn Monroe actually were around was a bit daunting. I’ve watched their movies for years, always wondering and dreaming about their methods, history and reasoning, trying my hardest to gaze through the cinematic window into their auteurism, their souls, and understand the reality behind their celluloid curtains. I was just a teenager from an American town of seven hundred people when I saw their movies for the first time. To actually be in the presence of their spirits in Europe(!) is a profundity I’m still happily grappling with.
Lastly, I saw some great new or new-to-me/revisited movies in 2013. The cinephile world got two new Johnnie To jams and I managed to see another handful of Martin Fric movies. Here are my lists for both, which are full of American movies because I still miss my homeland in some bizarre way:
Favorite 2013 Movies
Furious 6 (Justin Lin)
Drug War (Johnnie To)
Blind Detective (Johnnie To)
Pain & Gain (Michael Bay)
The Heat (Paul Feig)
Passion (Brian De Palma)
Ninja II (Isaac Florentine)
The Lone Ranger (Gore Verbinksi)
The Conjuring (James Wan)
American Hustle (David O. Russell)
Riddick (David Twohy)
Twixt (Francis Ford Coppola)
The Lords of Salem (Rob Zombie)
+ Top of the Lake (TV miniseries, Jane Campion & Garth Davis).
Favorite New-to-Me/Revisited Movies I watched in 2013 (in no particular order, aside from #1)
Rocky -Rocky Balboa (John G. Avildsen & Sylvester Stallone, 1976-2006)
Déjà vu (Tony Scott, 2006)
Love on a Diet (Johnnie To, 2001)
Seraphine (Martin Provost, 2008)
India: Matri Bhumi (Roberto Rossellini, 1959)
While the City Sleeps (Fritz Lang, 1956)
North Dallas Forty (Ted Kotcheff, 1979)
What Price Hollywood? (George Cukor, 1932)
Hall Pass (Farrelly Brothers, 2011)
Undisputed II: Last Man Standing & Undisputed III: (Isaac Florentine, 2006 & 2010)
Smilin’ Through (Frank Borzage, 1941)
Our Dancing Daughters (Harry Beaumont, 1928)
The Lake House (Alejandro Agresti, 2006)
The Tarnished Angels (Douglas Sirk, 1958)
Him and His Sister (Martin Fric, 1931)
The Stuff (Larry Cohen, 1985)
Her Sisters Secret (Edgar G. Ulmer 1946)
Someone’s Watching Me & Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1978 + 1992, John Carpenter)
The Sun Shines Bright (John Ford, 1953)
The Philly Kid (Jason Connery, 2012)
Mr. Arkadin (Orson Welles, 1955)
Sara Freeman is one of those damn vulgarians over at The Vulgar Cinema (http://thevulgarcinema.blogspot.com). She’s previously written for MUBI, La Furia Umana and was a feminist film blogger for Today’s Chicago Woman in a former life.