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Judy Garland (#110 of 5)

Jennifer Lawrence: On Female Spontaneous Combustion

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Jennifer Lawrence: On Female Spontaneous Combustion
Jennifer Lawrence: On Female Spontaneous Combustion

The image of women spontaneously combusting while doing housework was one of the most popular tropes of filmmaking more than a century ago. In a widely viewed early film from 1903, Mary Jane’s Mishap, a British housemaid accidentally immolates herself while attempting to light a hearth fire with paraffin and subsequently explodes out of the chimney. It was, of course, not uncommon for 19th-century women to catch fire in their own homes when their bulky hoop skirts would graze against an errant spark from the fireplace. Women spontaneously combusting in their own homes was a frequent hazard of the time that journalists then tastefully referred to as “crinoline conflagrations.”

Comical media images of women exploding provided outlets for spectators to laugh off the hazardous politics of everyday domesticity. While many aspects of the relationship between gender politics and media culture have changed since the early 1900s, we still harbor an unconscious tendency to laugh at otherwise horrific images of violence inflicted on women’s bodies. Fortunately, 21st-century domesticity isn’t quite so fraught with the perils of instantaneous conflagration. Yet, the image of women catching fire—quite simply as a metaphor for women’s ambitions to be visible at all—continues to spark our cultural imagination.

And perhaps no other movie star walks this fine line between media visibility and human calamity as deftly as Jennifer Lawrence. There’s something oddly literalistic about the actress’s star appeal. From her “electricity” with Bradley Cooper, to her near-fatal calamity with a 1970s microwave in American Hustle, to her iconic portrayal of “The Girl on Fire” in The Hunger Games trilogy, Lawrence draws on a long tradition of female combustion in cinema.

Why Streisand Still Matters William J. Mann’s Hello, Gorgeous

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Why Streisand Still Matters: William J. Mann’s Hello, Gorgeous
Why Streisand Still Matters: William J. Mann’s Hello, Gorgeous

How do you begin to explain to a generation downloading the likes of Swedish House Mafia, Rihanna, and the Dead Hormones why Barbra Streisand still matters? It’s a tough job, but author William J. Mann rises to the challenge admirably with his new book, Hello, Gorgeous: Becoming Barbra Streisand. It’s not a traditional full-length biography, but instead an engaging chronicle of Streisand’s meteoric rise during her first four years in show business. Hello, Gorgeous explores how the poor but resourceful girl from Brooklyn made the quantum leap from playing a moth in an Off Broadway playlet to headlining her own Broadway musical, Funny Girl, which often seemed to deliberately mirror Streisand’s own Cinderella story. On the way up, she was advised to change her look, drop her “cockamamie songs,” and shed her “angry woman attitude,” but her success was as much a testament to her talent as it was to remaining true to herself.

In the early ’60s, Streisand—unusually gifted, fiercely ambitious, and barely out of her teens—was regularly captivating audiences in Greenwich Village nightclubs like the Blue Angel and the Bon Soir. In these “little joints,” as Streisand called them, she would apply her crystalline voice to such far out selections as Cole Porter’s “Come to the Supermarket (In Old Peking)” and “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Woolf?”

15 Famous Movie Sisters

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15 Famous Movie Sisters
15 Famous Movie Sisters

In Your Sister’s Sister, Lynn Shelton directs Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt as complicated siblings, whose relationship is further tested by Mark Duplass’s grief-stricken houseguest. Both Blunt and DeWitt have played the sister role before, Blunt as recently as 2008, when she starred as Amy Adams’s sis in Sunshine Cleaning. From The Parent Trap to Crimes of the Heart, divine secrets to divine intervention, cinema has given us all manner of sisterhood, with no shortage of tears, laughs, and catfights. Herein are 15 films that stand out most in memory, their ladies leaving a mark as strong as a thicker-than-water bond.

15 Famous Cabins in the Woods

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15 Famous Cabins in the Woods
15 Famous Cabins in the Woods

This weekend sees the release of Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s The Cabin in the Woods, the most anticipated and buzzed-about horror film in some time. The setup is indeed the same one you’ve experienced over and over: a group of partying, young-adult archetypes head to a remote getaway, only to find terrifying carnage. But the guys behind Cabin delve far deeper into the geek abyss than many viewers will expect, emerging with a gonzo, convoluted send-up that stirs the pot even as it flies off the rails (no spoilers here, kids). The titular locale is but a dilapidated entry point, and we’ve got 15 more shacks that have opened their doors for audiences through the years.

Clowning Like It’s 1933: The New York Clown Theatre Festival

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Clowning Like It’s 1933: The New York Clown Theatre Festival
Clowning Like It’s 1933: The New York Clown Theatre Festival

As the economy crumbles all around us, Depression-era nostalgia is in the air. One of this summer’s highlights for me was spending a gorgeous August evening watching a free screening of Duck Soup on a boat docked on the Hudson, courtesy of Cinebeasts. (This cool little collective had teamed up with the Lilac Preservation Project to raise funds to restore the good ship Lilac, built the same year the Marx Brothers classic hit screens.)

And now there’s the New York Clown Theatre Festival at the Brick, running from September 3 - 26. Among the whopping 26 shows and cabarets, from an international array of performers, presented this year is “Diz and Izzy Aster – Vaudeville’s Late Bloomers,” which I caught on a double bill with “Ferdinand the Magnificent!” Diz and Izzy are the Burns-and-Allen type creation of multi-talented Mark Jaster and Sabrina Mandell—who sing, strum, and slapstick their way through familiar ditties, including a “new song by a young starlet” named Judy Garland. (Technically, Izzy plays “Over the Rainbow” on a musical saw.) Ferdinand the Magnificent, on the other hand, is a genuine big-nosed, diaper-wearing clown clad in an obnoxious, neon-pink bodysuit. Resembling a Dodo bird, this alter ego of puppeteer and musician Nick Trotter is a descendant of none other than Harpo Marx, and communicates mostly through physical gestures and the small cowbell tied about his waist.