David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows, the latest from the John Carpenter Sensory Ethnography Lab, begins with a stunning confluence of panic-rousing stimuli. As the camera pivots slowly to the right, the soundtrack throbbing with sinister synth washes, a girl runs from her home, pausing briefly in the middle of her suburban street to stare in horror at a threat that’s invisible both to the audience and the neighbor who kindly asks her if she needs her help. Before running back into the house, before driving off into the dead of night, before tearfully calling her father from a lonely beach, and before Mitchell jump cuts to a ghoulish vision of the girl’s corpse, leg broken and dreadfully twisted back toward its head, the camera unbelievably, in one unbroken movement, flips between positioning the audience as victim and victimizer.
Charade (#1–10 of 3)
In the mid-nineties, you couldn’t escape Audrey Hepburn; her image was everywhere. She was ceaselessly written about as a fashion icon, a major movie star, and also as an icon of benevolence. Before her death in 1993, when she journeyed into the devastation in Somalia for UNICEF, we took her seriously because of who she was and who she had been to us; we’re more skeptical now of such celebrity activism and its underlying motives, but even those who overdosed on Audrey worship can’t possibly doubt her sincerity and the strength of her outrage, for it had its roots in her own childhood deprivation under the Nazis during World War II. During the worst days of the war, she survived on grass, turnips and tulip bulbs. For a month, she had to hide in a cellar with her mother, in the dark. Just imagine that for a moment and what it must have been like, then remember how sensitive she was on screen, and consider her capacity for expressing and creating outsized joy. Garbo could do joy like that, but with her it was slightly mannered, more abstract. With Audrey Hepburn, in her best work, her feelings were as pure as cold, clean water.
Cary Grant said:
“To play yourself—your true self—is the hardest thing in the world. Watch people at a party. They’re playing themselves…but nine out of ten times the image they adopt for themselves is the wrong one.
“In my earlier career I patterned myself on a combination of Englishmen—AE Matthews, Noel Coward, and Jack Buchanan, who impressed me as a character actor. He always looked so natural. I tried to copy men I thought were sophisticated and well dressed like Douglas Fairbanks or Cole Porter. And Freddie Lonsdale, the British playwright, always had an engaging answer for everything.
“I cultivated raising one eyebrow and tried to imitate those who put their hands in their pockets with a certain amount of ease and nonchalance. But at times, when I put my hand in my trouser pocket with what I imagined was great elegance, I couldn’t get the blinking thing out again because it dripped from nervous perspiration!
“I guess to a certain extent I did eventually become the characters I was playing. I played at someone I wanted to be until I became that person. Or he became me.”
These are fascinating statements. He was box-office gold for decades, and the Cary Grant persona was a consciously created phenomenon. He did it. The studios didn’t do it, the marketing folks didn’t do it, the man didn’t even have an agent, for God’s sake. Grant, through a period of trial and error, tried things, kept those that worked, discarded those that didn’t. The fact that he seemed so easy and commanding onscreen is just one of the many miracles of Cary Grant.