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Grace Kelly (#110 of 5)

The Velocity of Autumn Interview with Estelle Parsons

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The Velocity of Autumn Interview with Estelle Parsons
The Velocity of Autumn Interview with Estelle Parsons

Estelle Parsons has always found something interesting to do. Eighty years ago at her local community theater, she starred as a boy who’s transformed into a princess. Now in Eric Coble’s The Velocity of Autumn, she’s playing a woman who threatens to blow up herself and her entire Brooklyn block if she’s not allowed to live and die as she pleases. In between, Parsons “showed up on time and ready to work.” That’s about as much credit as she’ll take for her success. She’s got a New Englander’s distaste for self-aggrandizement, or as she says: “I’m repressed.” The 86-year-old may not admit it, but she’s a trailblazer.

Parsons was one of only two women in her class at Boston University Law School and was in the first group of women to be accepted to Harvard Law School. At 21, she was the youngest person, and first woman, to be elected to the Marblehead Planning Board, and as the first “Today girl,” she was also television’s first female political reporter. In film, she won an Academy Award for her first major role in Bonnie & Clyde, and was nominated for her subsequent film, Rachel, Rachel, though cinephiles may also know her as much for her BAFTA-nominated turn in Melvin Van Peebles’s groundbreaking The Watermelon Man.

Before The Velocity of Autumn went into previews at Broadway’s Booth Theatre, Ms. Parsons spoke with me about her work, what drew her to acting, and retirement.

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot Glenn Heath Jr.’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Glenn Heath Jr.’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Glenn Heath Jr.’s Top 10 Films of All Time

It’s hard not to get a little nostalgic while trying to determine one’s favorite films of all time. Memories of first viewings come flooding back, even thoughts of long lost friends who shared those moments with you. In this sense, these 10 films have sculpted my life as a cinephile, programmer, and writer, some even in ways that I’m still discovering years later. While their initial impact was undeniably potent, each one continues to influence how I think about cinema as art, entertainment, and a mirror to human nature. If narrowing this list to 10 entries has taught me anything, it’s that great movies evolve over time, and as I’ve grown older each one has become more personal, more essential to my existence. Not surprisingly, many are concerned with the detailed process of aging, or more specifically the juxtaposition of physical deterioration and emotional vitality. Others even dynamically examine heightened memory and inevitable, sometimes forceful change. But all of my choices waver between visions of lyrical, horrific, and sometimes heart-wrenching transition. They are keys to my decidedly intimate canon, one when taken as a whole acts as a reminder that movies aren’t always everything in this fragile life.

15 Famous Women in Black

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15 Famous Women in Black
15 Famous Women in Black

This weekend, Daniel Radcliffe celebrates his first post-Potter effort with the release of The Woman in Black, a horror thriller about an axe-grinding female ghost who need only be seen to claim a child’s life. The veiled phantom surely has the edge when it comes to offing the little ones, but she hails from a long line of ladies who’ve gone all Hot Topic for the camera. Witches, wives, and even Whoopi made this list of women who sport only the darkest uniforms, making them scary, sexy, cool, sophisticated, and in some cases, all of the above.

Designing Woman: Helen Rose

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Designing Woman: Helen Rose
Designing Woman: Helen Rose

One important name missing from the plethora of tributes to Elizabeth Taylor was MGM’s leading costume designer of the 1950s, Helen Rose, who was largely responsible for intensifying Taylor’s distractingly sensual image at the height of her fame.

Rose’s designs placed a strong emphasis on the silhouette. They were elegant and understated, yet innovative, looking natural in spite of their theatrical nature. “Simple and dramatic” is how Rose described her dresses for Taylor. “If you have a magnificent jewel, you put it in a simple setting—you don’t distract from it with a lot of detail.”

This was the dictum which Rose followed when designing for Taylor, including the white chiffon dress with the deep V-neckline in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. “When a Bust Inspector appeared, he took one look at me and called for a stepladder,” Taylor quipped. “He climbed up, peered down, and announced that I needed a higher-cut dress, too much breast was exposed.” To satisfy the “Bust Inspector,” Rose pinned a brooch on the bodice. But as soon as the man left, the brooch was removed and the legendary cleavage was bared.

The Conversations: Minor Hitchcock

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The Conversations: Minor Hitchcock
The Conversations: Minor Hitchcock

Ed Howard: Alfred Hitchcock is one of the eternal touchstones of the cinema. He’s been a major influence for many of the best filmmakers to work in his wake, and films like Psycho, The Birds, North by Northwest, Rear Window and many others remain cultural markers that would be recognizable even to those who have never actually seen them. With a director this major, very little of his career hasn’t been explored in depth, with the possible exception of his fertile British period, which seems to get less attention than his later work. However, we’ve decided to discuss two of the master’s Hollywood films that, while perhaps not overlooked (indeed, both are remembered more or less fondly), are generally considered to be “minor” Hitchcock: Rope (1948) and To Catch a Thief (1955). My own perspective is that these supposedly “minor” films are, in their own ways, keeping in mind their quirks and undeniable limitations, major works nearly as rich and rewarding as Hitchcock’s better-known milestones.

They’re very different films, though, and there are very different reasons for their somewhat lesser stature in Hitchcock’s oeuvre. Psycho is mostly remembered for its audacious formal gimmick: it is composed entirely of a series of unbroken 10-minute-or-less takes, and the cuts between shots are often disguised in ostentatious ways to create the (not very convincing) illusion of a single take weaving through the enclosed set. This trick dominates the film to such an extent that it’s all many people remember about it, and I think this is unfortunate. If Psycho is remembered as a formal experiment and little more, To Catch a Thief is often viewed as Hitchcock making a hangout movie with some of his favorite stars, Grace Kelly and Cary Grant, on the French Riviera. Hitchcock said as much, and even opened the film with a shot of a tourism office’s front window (setting up the dark humor of the second shot, an abrupt cut to a screaming woman). So what we have here is one film that’s usually cited as a simple formal exercise, and another that’s considered a fun, sugary entertainment. Are these minor works from a major director? Or are they two more examples of Hitchcock’s mastery and genius, as well as his often-underappreciated range?