Thursday, November 3, 2016

Why I can't accept the existence of season 3 of BBC's The Fall

It's been a while since I last posted a (lengthy) entry on here but I have this gnawing, angry feeling in the pit of my stomach that will not go away. That sort of feeling you get when you are boiling mad but you cannot do anything to improve the situation, which makes the feeling even worse. I am that mad toward the third and final season of BBC's "The Fall", or rather the people who decided to write the third season (for God knows what reason) as we saw it on TV. The first word that comes to my mind when I try to think about this season after "NO!" is "why?" - just why? What happened that this season turned against anything that happened previously?

That’s what really bothers you isn’t it? The one-night stand? Man fucks woman. Subject man, verb fucks, object woman. That’s okay. Woman fucks man. Woman subject, man object. That’s not so comfortable for you is it? 

source: tumblr
If you conducted a survey among girls around the world about fictional heroines, role models or people they would love to hang out with or date, the chances that you would find Stella Gibson named among other people is very likely. The reasons for that are obvious: She is fascinating, mysterious, intelligent, strong, so beautiful, extremely qualified, a fighter and confident. So very confident. Her whole demeanour screams confidence. She knows she is good, she comfortable in her own skin, with her sexuality and she does appreciate when you think you can undermine her (especially when you are a man) or tell her what a man expects of a woman. She does not care about that. She knows exactly what she wants and she is not here for any double moral standards. This is probably not even close to why so many admire Stella and love her and are ready to fight for her and defend her to any foolish person who is naive enough to doubt her.
There is an essence of Stella, that is a throughout the whole series, and it is self-confidence and a level of femininity and responsibility to herself and her sexuality that is foreign to us somehow for some reason. It’s become fascinating, and yet it’s not for anybody else but herself. -Gillian Anderson
 Through two seasons we got to see her in action, try and find out more about her, see how she catches the serial killer, Paul Spector. When everyone in the police of Belfast was lost and didn´t know what to do, how to identify the killer and actually get him in prison, they got her. Nobody else was capable and competent enough but her. She looked past the end of her nose was not caught up in narcissism and narrow-mindedness but actually found the connection between the murders. We watched her do that for two seasons, sitting at the edge of our seat, only to see that Paul Spector was still alive at the end of season two. 

source: tumblr
I honestly kept wondering what else was left to tell about this chase now that they had caught him, wondering if it would go in a direction of Broadchurch season 2 where the convicted murderer of Danny Latimer was on trial. That was the only thing I could think of that would make sense. 
But what we got, boggles my mind. Instead of doing that glorious character of Stella Gibson justice and keep her in the focus of the actions, she was shoved aside. All of a sudden the killer's background was important, why he became the monster he has become; having him bewitch the nurse and eventually get out of the hospital (security!?) to take revenge on Stella who meanwhile has been ridiculed by every man on the police department because apparently, they all of a sudden are more competent than her, even though they would never have caught him without her in the first place (mind you, she told the male police officers what would happen, did they listen? No! Did it happen! Yes). But that´s not important, apparently. All of a sudden we have the stereotype picture of the man saving the day and the woman being a pretty accessory to everything but who is still a bit of an idiot, justifying all of the happenings in this fatal season by saying something along the line of "but it was important to show how brutal men can be!"
Do the writers of the show really think their audience lives under a rock? We see shocking news of domestic abuse, of violence against women in every shape and form every single day of our lives. Some of the audience members may even have gone through it themselves. To nobody, this is "brand new". We KNOW! We don´t need to see it on a screen. What the audience loved about the show was not the importance to show (again) how predatory men are and how they always think they are superior. What made this show stick out was the leading character, Stella Gibson and the feminism she brought to light. So naturally, for me, it was a given that in season 3 they would explore her background, not Paul Spector's (and I mean exploring by mentioning her past in more than just 3 sentences). What was written in those diaries? What was her relationship to her father? How and why has she become who she is etc.? But instead, we got the same recipe that has been used among male writers for as long as we have movies and TV (well, excepting for the pre-code films of the early 1930s, they would have loved Stella Gibson, quite frankly). It´s disappointing, mind-boggling to the extent that I am not sure what to do first: scream, cry, throw my water bottle against the wall or run the whole anger off. I don´t know where, when and why the writers decided to make this as terrible as possible and as misogynistic as possible (if that was their intention: congratulations, you absolutely succeeded).

source: tumblr
I think, the whole issue starts with the fact that a man wrote it. No sane woman would have written such a script. And if you need proof of how fantastic all-female productions can be, where men don't feel threatened in their masculinity by women is when you look at another British TV show, a crime drama as well, Scott & Bailey, with the difference that from the writers to the directors it is an almost all-female production from season 1 on until season 5. They too center around three detectives (Janet Scott, Rachel Bailey, and Gill Murray) but you never see them completely out of character, being undermined by men who think they are better than them (and there is a scene in season 4, where I wished this had happened in The Fall). None of these three detectives is without flaws but you see them evolve through five seasons without getting the feeling that this is wrong or weird or unnatural. Scott and Bailey is more real in their character representation and in the way they develop through the seasons as The Fall did with their jump to season 3. And the ones who don't believe me, give that show a chance, you will see what I mean.

source: tumblr
What is left for me is to ignore the existence of this final season of The Fall and imagine Paul Spector died on the way to the hospital at the end of season 2. It would have done a great favor to a lot of us. The only good thing about that show is that it is over now so no man can tamper with it even more and we once again saw the brilliant acting of Gillian Anderson. But we knew that already.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Time to say goodbye?

R.I.P. Maureen O'Hara (source)
It's happened once again: one of the few remaining actresses of the Golden Age of Hollywood has passed away and put the classic era of film one step further into the past. Maureen O'Hara has now joined a long list of actors who do not longer remain among us. Now, some will think something along the line of "How old was she? 95? But that´s a great age. She had a long life. And everyone has to die, so why are you sad?" 

To many people who admire classic actresses and love old films, that is not the point. We all know that nobody is immortal (though we would love to pretend some of those actors were - I don´t even want to think of Olivia De Havilland, because I am scared I might jinx the whole thing and she will leave us, too). The point why everyone is so sad about Maureen's death (besides her not being here anymore) is that a lot fear that this particular era of film that is so important, will start collecting dust and will be lost in oblivion. And that fear is real.

Unless you really are interested in film or in Classic Film in particular, you never ever hear of actresses like Myrna Loy, Ginger Rogers or Norma Shearer. A lof of young people nowadays are ignorant enough to believe that movies like all those comic adaptations are the best thing that has ever happened to film and think that anything that is older than 20 years and is black & white is unwatchable. That this notion is completely wrong is something we know. They don´t know what those stars went through, they don´t know the stories of those films, the plots, the issues they dealt with, that women played an especially important part in the early 1930s but apparently became too "dangerous" and that the Hays Code was inaugurated by a bunch of men because of that. The Hays Code did not stop movies from being as amazing as they were. Movie makers just became more subtle and more intelligent in bringing across their story. A lot of issues old movies dealt with back then are just as important to us now (of course, others have changed completely). There are so many aspects of old film people should be aware of, they could learn so much. But they simply don´t and with every star from that period who dies, those wonderful people and the films they made are one step further away. Gone with the wind, so to speak.

I don´t know how we can solve this problem and make more people aware of all this, we can just keep on trying, but the fact that it´s moving further into the past (and for a lot into oblivion) is just a very sad and depressing thought. All we can do is to try and keep that period alive and remind people of how great it was/ is, and infect them with the passion for it (please don´t be negative about it, don´t spread hate and jealousy but love, it's much more fun that way). And we need to do this because I cannot imagine a world without the beauty of Old Hollywood. So, a big thumbs up to all the movies and tv series that are making references to Old Hollywood - like The X-Files, Gilmore Girls or also Pretty Little Liars. Keep it alive, keep this era in the minds of people. Thank you!

PS: If you need any more reason to start spreading the Old Hollywood love instead of hate, just think of that list that "haunted" Tumblr a year ago or so. Look at the list and think of who you can strike out now. It´s quite a depressing outcome. I just copied a list (it´s not complete). As I said, the list is one year old and I didn´t change the age of the stars. I just struck out the ones who are not longer remaining among us:

Yes, I think the oldest is Olivia de Havilland which I’m all nervous about because she’s a doll and she just turned 98 this year and I think she’s the last of the 1930s stars now that Betty is gone :( There’s also: ·
  • Kim Novak (81) · 
  • Maureen O’Hara (93) · 
  • For some reason Kirk Douglas is still alive (97) · 
  • Queen Betty White (92) · 
  • My love Rita Moreno (82) · 
  • Christopher Lee is still making movies! (92) · 
  • One that never gets any Tumblr love is Glynis Johns, she’s fab and 90! · 
  • Eternal Eva Marie Saint is still in demand (90) · 
  • Doris Day (90) · 
  • Angela Lansbury (88) ·
  •  Dick Van Dike (88) · 
  • Jerry Lewis (88) · 
  • Director Mel Brooks (88) · 
  • Stud Sidney Poitier (87) - under strict instructions not to die · 
  • Sean Connery (83) · 
  • Harry Belafonte (87) · 
  • Roger Moore (86) · 
  • Christopher Plummer (84) · 
  • Tippi Hedren (84) · 
  • Gene Hackman (84) · 
  • Marni Nixon (84) · 
  • Joanne Woodward (84) · 
  • Clint Eastwood (84) · 
  • James Earl Jones (83) · 
  • Robert Duvall (83) · 
  • Leonard Nimoy (83) · 
  • Olympia Dukakis (83) · 
  • Leslie Caron (83) · 
  • Angie Dickinson (83) · 
  • Anita Ekberg (82) · 
  • Piper Laurie (82) · 
  • Debbie Reynolds (82) · 
  • Omar Sharif (82) 
  • There’s a lot in their 70s like Robert Redford, Jane Fonda, Albert Finney etc who are also not allowed to die. This post made me feel better. ETA: I just realized that Betty was in the 40s not 30s. Too early not enough coffee 
  • Also Louis Jourdan (94) and William Shatner (83) John Gavin is also still kicking at 83. 
  • Luise Rainer is 104! 
  • Shirley Temple (85)
  • (HRH) Julie Andrews (80)
  • Maggie Smith (80)
  • Baby Peggy (96)
  • Ann Blyth (86)
  • Rod Taylor (85)
  • Sophia Loren (80)

Source: Tumblr

But now a quick word about our Irish lass: Thank you, Maureen, that we were lucky enough to know you and to be around when you were, thanks for your strength and your movies. You will be missed. Tell all the other great people up there that they are (almost all) greatly missed (you don´t have to tell this Clark Gable and John Barrymore though).

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The X Files - An (Un)explained Phenomenon

"The X-Files is more than just a groundbreaking film and television series - it is an international cultural phenomenon, which has been by turns terrifying, thrilling, thought provoking an oftentimes hilarious. Over and unprecedented nine-year run, Chris Carter and his brilliant staff of writers, directors and producers explored the extreme possibilities of science, religion, and the supernatural - setting a new bar for the sci-fi genre and earning its place as a "pop culture touchstone" (Cinescape) and one of of the "Top 100 Best TV shows of all time" (Time Magazine)." (Hurwitz & Knowles, 2008)
I am sure nobody would have believed what a huge amount of love would rush towards that show, the impact it would have on pop culture, that something like the Scully effect would happen and that people would end up associating the tv show with adjectives like legendary, phenomenal, groundbreaking or outstanding when it first aired on 10 September, 1993. A show that had a darkish look, featuring two FBI Agents, a petite red-haired woman, a scientist and a medical doctor next to a tall, handsome guy who believed in the existence of extraterrestrials set out to find the truth.
I am sure they also did not believe that the show would end up running for 202 episodes, spanning over a period of nine seasons, two feature films and a comic book series (also referred to as 'Season 10'); with a very devoted fan base with its own name - The X-Philes (from the Ancient Greek word philia (φιλία), "love, affection"– due to their intense passion and discussions on the Internet regarding the series and their never-ending love for the show). Or that over the years the show would not be buried in oblivion, but even gain in popularity, and that now in 2015, 22 years after its first release, everyone who only remotely knows The-X Files would be over the moon with the news that the series will have a revival. 
I am pretty sure they did not anticipate this huge wave. But that´s what happened and this is only the short, cut-down version of events. I myself was not there when it happened in the 90s (as a fan that is), I just remember seeing the previews for episodes on tv and marvelling at Scully´s beauty as a kid but I was not allowed to watch it (bad parenting? Lol), but luckily I caught up a few years later and here we are now. 
So, this post is dedicated to all of you out there who haven´t watched the mother of all shows yet, for whatever reasons, or for those who haven´t got round to it yet, but definitely should. Here are some reasons why I love the show, why you should watch it, why I think it is still such an important series and why every girl needs to have Scully as her role model.

Note: I won´t list perfect episodes or must-watch episodes because everyone´s preference is different, also I have read dozens of lists the past few weeks and I never agreed with any of them ("Hey you forgot!" / "Why is that one on there??")

1. The Characters
Let´s start off with the most obvious one, the characters. Characters are always the core of every show, those are the ones we watch, we laugh and cry with, who we might take as role models, as an inspiration. Their personalities, the way they think, how they act, how they deal with situations etc are reasons what always keeps us going when watching a TV show.
In the case of The X-Files, there are the two main characters. Fox (William) Mulder and Dana (Katherine) Scully, two characters who have inspired millions of people all over the world. As fascinating and unique as they were as a duo - and I can assure you, you will never find another duo that can match up with those two - as different were their personalities.
Mulder, a loner, was a 'believer', that his sister was abducted when he was only a child and now he is out on a crusade to find out what happened to her. On that way he has started believing things and has seen things, someone else might have brushed off as "ridiculous". It´s his imperturbable belief why Scully follows him on his mission. Scully is the opposite: a realist, who believes in hard proof, science and is a 'skeptic'. She is always thorough and firm in her beliefs and her approach and is the one who challenges Mulder time and again. The X-Files was probably the first TV show - or one of the first - to switch gender roles and play against stereotype. Mulder and Scully were not only foils of each other and equal in every respect, despite everything they were always grounded, down-to-earth and real. You wish you could know them in real life, and be their friends, which is why the audience could reach out to them.
We see them grow over the series of the show, see how they react and learn from experiences - good and bad, we see how their partnership evolves throughout that time and still they remain the same. At the end of the day they are still Scully and Mulder, the characters you will grow to adore. Like we, they are just human beings, with their faults, who are not perfect but strive to become better, which is another aspect that makes them so likable.

Main characters aside, that show had an amazing cast all over. The supporting cast was just as great. There are so many great characters and all of them were fleshed out and had their own development and story. First and foremost there is Walter Skinner, their boss who I always think of as "Papa Bear". He was an FBI Assistant Director and supervised Mulder and Scully on the X-Files. He grows throughout the series as well - and wonderfully, too. Beginning with a typical unfriendly attitude toward the whole "X-Files" thing, he grows to believe as well and becomes a bit like a father figure to our favorite agents. There is also our favorite villain Cigarette-Smoking Man (CSM) who was bad through and through, lonely, bitter and so evil - though I think, I once saw that he has the shred heart, but only for the fragment of a second.  He was a firm believer too  - sort of the dark version of Mulder. He is a very complex character:
"Cigarette Smoking Man, Smoking Man, Cancer Man, whatever you want to call him (personally I like Cancer Man the best), this guy was clouded in mystery as well as smoke. Whenever I watched an episode, whether it was on television or years later on DVD, I always hoped he would be in it. Aside from Mulder and Scully, he’s the only other X-Files character to appear in the series pilot and finale. Cancer Man was an evil man, but was also one who largely believed everything he did was for the greater good. This never stopped him from being a smug (insert whatever you wish) though. Cancer Man usually remained confident and always on top of the game. (Church, 2013, What Culture)"
None of this would have been possible if the actors' performances hadn't been just so fantastic, that every character was so endearing.

Something else is to be noted here: the amount of guest stars that appeared on the show is nothing but mind boggling: Luke Wilson, Burt Reynolds, Ryan Reynolds, Octavia Spencer, Bryan Cranston, Lily Tomlin, Ed Asner, Michael McKean, Peter Boyle... are only a few of a long list of stars.

2. Playing Against Stereotype: The Case of the Enigmatic Dr. Dana Scully
Let´s stay with characters for a little longer. I know, I just talked about this for a longer time, but I think that this little red-head deserves a spot of her own. What can you say about Dana Scully?
She is the complete opposite of Mulder who is so desperate to believe. She is the dichotomy to him, in looks and personality: 5'3 tall, red hair (her trademark), blue eyes. She is a highly educated medical doctor with an undergraduate degree in physics who grew up as one of the four children of a Navy officer. Unlike Mulder, she is not out to prove that aliens exist, and she is also not driven to find the truth. She is driven by something else: her science. She is a strong investigator in her own right and challenges Mulder again and again. It´s a reverse of tropes; he is the believer she is the skeptic.
She is a strong, independent woman in a world and a profession dominated by men, with a constant presence not only in appearance, but also in demeanor. She is intelligent, rational, courageous and undoubtedly the smartest person in the room. And she is a fighter. She fights for what she believes in and for whom she loves. She stands up for her own rights.

Initially, she is sent to Mulder to debunk his work, to prove that it was not worth keeping the X-Files up. But soon, she has to see for herself that there is more than cold, hard proof. That there might be something true what Mulder is saying. Still, she cannot accept it and keeps on trying to explain it with her beloved science.
She does it all with a certain kind of grace you would only find in Scully. She would kickass and be a badass without being a bitch.
"She carried herself as a highly competent, reliable and loyal woman who rarely caused a scene. She didn’t need to: people trusted in her ability, so they listened without being told to. The cool authority with which Scully ruled her career—and her life—made her the pop culture patron saint of women trying to forge a career in STEM fields." (Abby, 2015, All That Is Interesting)
That was what you could also refer to as "The Scully Effect": the influx of young women to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. She inspired millions of girls that way, and still does. An added bonus of it all is that she is a stunning woman, with this amazing hair.

3. This Show Got Real - The Truth is Out There
The show never shied back to talk about philosophical issues, about religion, death, inbreeding or other controversial topics. There is something in almost every episode. I always get the feeling that they put careful thought in almost every episode and every episode has a theme, where at the end of the day, you are being left with what they presented you and it makes you think, consider, reconsider. What makes someone evil? How far would someone go in order to find the truth? How far would you go to save someone you love? And what is justice? I once read somewhere that you could also compare it to Mythbusters, a question is asked and the episode tries to answer that question, if it is being answered is another thing, but they put the question out there and you are left with it. This may sound terribly strenuous, considering you have over 200 episodes to watch, but it really isn´t. It´s fun and it´s intriguing and the fact that they confront you with almost every topic under the sun makes the show even more lovable.

4. The Mythology
The mythology is the heart and soul of the show. It is one of the reasons why the show is such an everlasting thing. It is a very complicated storyline and quite complex right from the beginning, so if you think you can start the show with watching any random season, think again. It might be confusing at first but as you watch, the story slowly unfolds in front of your eyes if you are careful and also keep watching for details and connect things. Sometimes you will only understand it watching it multiple times, but in the end it is so worth it. It is a very rich story packed with government policies, aliens, family dramas, traumas, abductions etc. You will be confused, yes, and you will also be surprised or even shocked but that´s the beauty of the mythology. If you keep watching, you will get some of your questions answered, but at the same time even more are raised and you just cannot stop watching because you just want to know. And the way the mythology evolves is just beautiful. Of course, there are hiccups of logic (holes) here and there (I only say Antarctica, Philes will know what I mean), but that doesn´t stop the mythology to be as amazing as it is. And I assure you, your perspective on things will be altered, you will have a different view on things afterward.

5. The Monster of the Week episodes
Those episodes are an absolute must for everyone. Often used for character interactions that strengthen the relationship between Mulder and Scully, some of those are standalone episodes who are just so memorable. With those episodes, you will get to know Eugene Tooms and also Donald Pfaster (and I still think he is the creepiest of all monsters, just because he seemed so real), two men you really, really don´t want to meet in real life. Trust me. There are tons of fan favorites: Humbug, Paper Hearts, Drive, Bad Blood, Pusher, Beyond the Sea, Home or Clyde Buckman's Final Respose (which won guest star Peter Boyle an Emmy Award). There are many, many more and everyone has their own personal hit list. So just trust me on this one, you will love them.

5. The Comedy
Up till now you probably thought The X-Files was a dark and very serious TV show, with no laughs and jokes. And you are right, it is a show full of dark crimes, which are really extreme and intense. But there is also a funny side to the coin. And it was a brilliant idea to introduce comedic episodes once in a while. Let´s put it that way; when the episodes are serious and mind-wrecking, it´s fantastic. But if the episodes are funny, it´s straight out hilarious. Every season has at least one of those episodes. A fan favorite (I am sure 99.9% of all X-Files fans will name this episode as one of their favorites), e.g., is Bad Blood. They have nothing to do with the mythology, they are standalone episodes, but an absolute must-watch. It´s just hilarious to watch your favorite characters bantering like an old married couple, making the best facial expressions and have the best one-liners. And also, it´s just a delight to see those two characters have fun and laugh, when they have so much drama in their lives otherwise. You will end up being able to speak the dialogs along with the episodes. I know, I can almost recite Bad Blood when watching it and that still doesn´t make it less funny. Because " it wasn´t even real cream cheese, it was light cream cheese!"

6. MS Relationship/Romance: Mulder Loves Scully and Scully Loves Mulder
Fun fact:
"The term "shipper" comes from supporting a ship. To ship something means a person wants two characters to get together and/or shows support for two characters already together. The term "ship" came from the X-Files fandom, when fanfics were written about Mulder and Scully. The fans then called themselves shippers. It quickly spread and is now the title a person gives themself if they believe two characters should or will be together." [x]
This is probably the first thing everyone comes in contact with when trying to find out something about the series. And trust me, it´s the most unique and fascinating chemistry of a duo you will ever come across. Besides, I don´t even think that there ever will be a duo like Mulder and Scully with their immense trust in one another (sometimes they even trust the other one more than they trust themselves). It´s not possible. It is probably the strongest and most popular OTP in TV history. I always try to imagine how agonizingly slow it must have been for original Philes who had been there from the beginning, till they finally got a kiss. And I don´t even know if that is true, but considering what I know about the show now (after five years of being a fan) it would not surprise me in the least if it were true. I heard once that when Scully and Mulder finally kissed, it was even a topic for newspapers. Talking about popularity here. Anyway, I got off track here. But explaining what makes MSR so special would take forever. Their relationship really reminds me of a very delicate flower, you just keep staring at, because you are fascinated by it and you don´t want to take your eyes off it. You could write a thesis about it, I am serious. I don´t even feel qualified to, so I went to look for quotes and I think, I found one in a forum:
"They have not two truths but two sides of the same reality. This, for me, has always been the essence of what made Mulder and Scully work so well. [...] Opposites attract but compliments last, and Mulder and Scully are each of these qualities. They are complimentary opposites in that they bring out the best in each other in ways no one else ever could, challenging the other's ways of thinking and, in doing so, encouraging the other to open their mind and look at all perspectives. Yet, when you strip away their opposite viewpoints, they really aren't that different at the core. They're both flawed individuals who are extremely independent and stubborn; they're both single-minded and passionate about what they believe the truth to be (Mulder in the paranormal, Scully in faith and science); they were both workaholics who chose to sacrifice their personal lives to their quest for the truth; and, as you so eloquently pointed out, they've shared similiar experiences with past relationships because of their inability to emotionally let anyone into their world. For Scully, her main defensive mechanism was to focus on her strength, refusing to show the slightest weakness. For Mulder, his main defensive mechanism was dedicating himself so obsessively to the paranormal, thus detaching himself from having to deal with the normal." (source)

7. Music
This one will be short and painless. Who doesn´t know and love The X-Files theme? Mark Snow´s work on the TXF is simply outstanding.  Whether it is the main theme or Scully´s theme or any other piece of the entire soundtrack. It's perfect and it always fits the mood of the show and influences it in a great way.

The show was big, is big and will always be bigger than any other show, mainly because it was the first one in anything. The influence is just too obvious and the love for it is unbroken. And I highly doubt that television would be what it is today, without this TV show. Literally everyone who knows the show, loves it, flails about it and is over the moon with the prospect of a revival (and I think everyone agrees with the Washington Post here: 'The X-Files' revival has a chance of being horrible, but I don't care'). So what your job now is, is to drop everything you are doing and start watching it. What are you waiting for? The Truth is Out There. Grab it.

PS: For film enthusiasts, and fans of Old Hollywood like me, there are a lot of references to the glorious films of the Golden Era of Hollywood. Another reason to watch it

Further Reading:
Knowles, Chris, Hurwitz, Matt, Abrams J.J. & Carter, Chris, 2008: The Complete X-Files. Behind the Series The Myths and the Movies. San Rafel, CA: Insight Editions.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Let's take a minute and appreciate Myrna Loy, shall we?

Imagine: you´re having hell of a bad day, the weather sucks and all odds are against you. Eventually you think "Okay, this day could not get any worse" but you know that´s always possible, which doesn´t even matter at that point because your mood is on an ultimate low - from a scale of 1 to 10, it´s probably -20.  At the end of the day you´re either hitting your couch or your bed and you do the only thing that keeps you sane. You turn in a movie. But not just any movie. A movie that will make you feel good, that will make you forget that doomed day you survived. After a while you begin to get this fuzzy, warm feeling and you are perfectly content (under a blanket, of course).
This is how you could describe the effect Myrna Loy has not just on me but on a lot of other people, too. There are some people that are so special, so precious that no matter what, they will always make you feel better. Sometimes you cannot even describe why you love them so much, because that love has manifested itself so much, that you either don´t know what to say or you could basically write a five-page essay with reasons about why this person is the best person on the planet. So, here are a couple of reasons why you should take a minute and appreciate the freckle-faced redhead with the turned-up nose.

1. She was a woman ahead of her time who fought for equality, spoke her mind and stood up for everyone´s rights

As a Myrna fan, this fact makes you especially proud. When you watch the rare interviews that exist or read her book, you honestly cannot help but wanting to hug her for her straightforwardness. If it was early in her acting career or later when she was more politically involved, she always spoke her mind (and got into trouble for that at times). Best example is when she asked "Why does every Negro in a film have to play a servant? How about just a black person walking up the steps of a courthouse carrying a briefcase?". This was during a time when everybody had no sense for equality, when black people were ignored and could not get a proper acting job. This question of hers caused a storm. It was the early 1930s, later of course, people saw that she was right with her notion that everyone should have the same rights.
Another example from a completely different department is her pixie ears. She had ears that stuck out, which exasperated the makeup department on a regular basis. They tried to glue them on, but nothing worked. Same went for her nose. She had a little bone on the side of her nose, which cast a shadow in certain lights. This drove the cameramen crazy "because they never knew when it would appear. They’d see the rushes, groan, ‘There’s that thing again,’ and have to retake the scene. It looked like a tiny smudge on my nose. I mean you could hardly see it, but that’s how far the mania for perfection went." So she was often called in for retakes and since those are rather expensive she was once called in by the makeup department who announced that they maybe would fix her nose. "I was horrified. I used to be known as ‘The Nose’ for goodness’ sake—thousands of women went to plastic surgeons to have it duplicated. I said, ‘Never! Nobody’s touching this nose!’ and got out of there fast.”. Again, she did things against the odds (since it was not uncommon that a film studio ordered you to have plastic surgery) and was right. I could go on, but I think you should just read her book.

2. Her voice
This point might cause some people to have a question mark over their face, but let me explain. Her voice is special, just like she is. You have to listen to her and if you do, you´ll immediately know what I am talking about. There is this lilt in her voice only she has. And sometimes she has the cutest way of pronouncing words, either she goes up at the end of a sentence or she does something else only Myrna would do. If you´ve never heard her Lux Radio Theater shows, you are really missing out. Just listen to her- or watch one of her movies.

3. That perfect combination of wisdom, wit and grace

The way she carried herself, the way she spoke and what she did was just so graceful. All her roles have such a wonderful grace about them that you honestly get the feeling that she is unreal. But then in other cases when you read about her, you see that she was just as down-to earth like you and me. Still, that grace just never went away. She oozes it. Along with this grace (I mean, just look at her pictures) was this wisdom - she really was wise beyond her years and talked about things things, we deal with now. When I kept looking for quotes to present, I found myself reading her book again and stumbled across one I had actually forgotten:
"Women should never be intimidated into dressing down to strengthen their professional image. Display your femininity proudly. A woman needn´t don horn-rimmed glasses and orthopaedic oxfords to prove she has brains."
Yet, she could be just as witty as Nora Charles - she had a wonderful sense of humor. It naturally showed best when she was with William Powell, off and on screen. They were invited by Sid Grauman to get their hands and feet imprinted in front of the Grauman's Chinese Theater when they came up with the idea of giving Sid Grauman a scare. So, they did not turn up with their normal shoes but clown shoes and they nearly gave him a heart attack. Of course they did not do their imprints with those but the prank was funny nevertheless.

4. She is everyone´s best friend basically - especially ours

And I don´t just mean that everyone in the film business loved her with a lot of people having such a trust in her that they shared their problems with her or that they were simply able being able to show their true self when being with her-  no, I also mean us. Of course, there are the stories of James Stewart exclaiming that he will marry Myrna one day or how she looked after Bill Powell when he had cancer, how Clark Gable could show his sensitive site and read poetry to her and just be himself, not having to prove that he is the no. 1 macho guy. She could always look behind the façade and see what´s really going on. What I mean is we always get this true sense of "Wow, she could actually be my best friend if she were still alive." You always get this feeling that you know her so well, and it´s not just because you might have read about her or watched her movies, it´s on another level. You know you two might really hit it off. You know, she would never judge you for what you do, she would listen to you but also she was someone to steal horses with. She would be the perfect BFF. And that just shows on screen and anywhere else, she had a beautiful character. 

5. She was a fantastic actress and played modern women who had their own mind

Her body of work is great. She started off in the silent film era but really became successful in the 1930s, during the pre-code era. She is probably most known for playing the witty Nora Charles in The Thin Man, a character that was equal to her husband long before equality and feminism really came up. She has her own mind, is never afraid to speak it and to take action if she thinks it´s necessary. And she never takes no for an answer [x]. But it wasn´t just this delightful character. There were other roles, which give you the same feeling. Just look at Libeled Lady, Third Finger Left Hand, The Best Years of Our Lives or Cheaper by the Dozen/ Belles on their Toes: all of the women she portrayed had their own mind, their own lives and their own goals. A lot of the women she played had their own professions and had a definite tendency towards the modern woman. Sometimes it was subtle, sometimes it was more obvious but it usually was always there. 

6. She used to be the shy, freckled kid who managed overcome hardships and became one of the superstars of her time
"I was scared as a mouse growing up. Although busy and doing many things, I had difficulty talking to people for years. I’ve worked to overcome it. There isn’t anybody I won’t take on now - within the bounds of propriety, shall we say."
She grew up in a little town called Helena/ Montana at around the same time Gary Cooper lived there too. She was into theater from very early on, and tried to overcome her shyness. When she came to Hollywood as a trained dancer, it wasn´t easy at first. She had a hard time at the beginning, but she kept on fighting. She then married (four times in total) and wanted to find love. The wish of a fulfilled marriage with children was never supposed to be. Her first marriage failed, just as the other three. The men either underestimated her and didn´t take her seriously or were not good (enough) for her - mind you, one even beat her. She got out of all the marriages save and sound and with her head held high (and her heart broken). She was a fighter, all her life. The best example is when she took a break from film (which is courage as well!) during WWII to support soldiers and she visited them in hospital. To me, this example stands for how she took on everything in her life:
"There was a gang at Bethesda Naval Hospital I would visit on holidays, when hardly anyone came near them. Lying there covered with plaster, while plastic ears set or patches healed where skin had been taken from their stomachs to fix their faces, they would shout: "Hey, Myrna, how about slippin' us some skin?" They were all so cheerful. The blind boys could hear my name, put their hands over my face, get hold of my nose , and said "Yup, that´s her." I would have fun with them for a little while and then go to the ladies' room and cry.After a while I could take almost anything, even the psychiatric wards. Apparently I had something that made them trust me, whcih is what you must have with mental patients. They´re just enveloped with fear. It would infuriate me when after a stretch on the wards I´d go to some fancy restaurant and hear a lot of well-dressed people bitching about the butter-shortage or gasoline rationing."

7. She is just so cute and her smile kills you

It starts with that nose scrunch, continues with random moments in movies where you can see she is almost dying because she would love to laugh but can´t - like there is one in Mr. Blandings Builds his Dream House where this man explains something to Cary Grant and Myrna is in the background perfectly dying, or in Another Thin Man when the Nick Jr. forces his dad to drink up the milk. Also, how adorably snobby she was about dancing. She was a trained dancer and loved dancing but absolutely refused to go dancing The Charleston with her friend Joan Crawford who was known to become the epitome of the 1920s flapper and was a skilled dancer herself, or when Clark Gable made an attempt to get her and she sent him flying off his porch (which ended in a close friendship), or the numerous cute things she did with William Powell. On top of that, she had an absolutely adorable smile - and dimples (I have a thing for dimples).

8. ...and because her on-screen relationship with William Powell is everything we aspire in a relationship

When The Thin Man was released in May 1934, a film that would change the image of marriage. Nick and Nora Charles became the epitome of an equal marriage, even though nobody knew how the audience would react when seeing this movie for the first time:

"The matrimonial combination of Powell and Loy - even that was a risk, because in those days you got married at the end of the movie, not at the beginning.[...] The whole thing broke with tradition in several ways" (Samuel Marx quoted by Kotsilibas-Davis, Loy, 1987) 

Nick Charles is a detective, married to his rich wife Nora. The plot is not as interesting as the interaction between those two.
"What made "The Thin Man" special was the playful and affectionately insulting relationship between Powell and Loy. Theirs was not just a happy marriage but a modern one, a union of equals".

Nick and Nora Charles were equal in every respect and it´s such a natural thing. In all of their films Myrna and Bill are equals and they have such a beautiful interaction, they tease each other, have fun, have ups and downs and just love each other and their love is so pure (on screen) and yet it´s so light that you really wish your relationship would end up like this. They trust each other completely and know they can rely on another. It´s almost symbiotic, they complement each other. Both are an individual with their on life on their own and together they just take this whole thing on the next level. And that´s such a beautiful thing.

(a video a very dear friend of mine did and which I absolutely love)

All in all I can say that Myrna Loy is a truly inspirational woman, someone you really can look up to. Taking her as a role model can only make you a better person. So, if this little post triggered your interest or makes you go and get one of her films, then my job is done and I succeeded. And you definitely make me a happy person.

Further reading:
  • Kotsilibas-Davis, James, Loy, Myrna, 1987: Myrna Loy. Being and Becoming. London: Bloomsbury Publishing Ltd
  • LaSalle, Mick (2000). Complicated Women. Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood. New York: St. Martin's Griffin.

Note: A BIG thank you to everyone on tumblr who replied to my question on why they love Myrna. You really were a great help.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Talking about perfect movies: Devdas

"Bapuji said leave the village, everybody said leave Paro, Paro said leave alcohol. Today, you said leave home. One day he'll say, leave the world."
I think everybody knows what kind of movies I am talking about: there are some movies you love with a passion and after watching them, you could talk about them or analyse them for days on end. Yet, you don´t watch them very often because they are too special, too precious for that. You don´t want to spoil them by watching them every day, but still you always get the urge to do so after seeing them again. Sounds familiar? I thought so.

To me, Devdas is such a film. I re-watched it today and felt the great urge to write about it and here we are. The film is an intense love story (intense is the perfect word for this film), a film about relationships, loss, the human nature and the downfall of a man.

And if you´ve never seen a Bollywood film, this movie is the perfect introduction for you. Go, treat yourself, get the movie and enjoy it. But a warning: the film is beautiful in a heart-breaking way. It will leave you shattered to pieces and you will love it.

Before I try to put all my feelings and thoughts on "paper" and in coherent sentences, some facts:

Devdas is a 2002 movie directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali based on the 1917 novella by the same name, starring three of the most gorgeous and most gifted stars: Shah Rukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Madhuri Dixit. It was a box-office hit in India in 2002, won the Filmfare Award for Best film and was India's official entry in the foreign-language film category of the 2003 Academy Awards, but did not receive a nomination (it should have though, it should have won). It was also nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Time Magazine listed the film in the list of the Top 10 best films in 2002 [source].

But enough with how many times the film was nominated, and how great it is. What is it about?
(I try to keep the spoilers at a minimum)

ill-fated lovers
Devdas Mukherji (SRK), a slacker, but a sensitive and talented young man, is coming home from studying law in London after being abandoned and shipped off by his father 10 years prior. The family is overjoyed and shares the great news with their neighbors with whom they have been very close with. The neighbors' daughter Paro (later Parvati) and Devdas used to be best friends during childhood days. So, one can imagine who Devdas is going to see first after arriving: Paro - which sets off his mother (and makes her jealous). Paro (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) has grown into a beautiful, confident woman who had been counting the days since Devdas departure, waiting for him to come back again. The childhood friendship turns into a deeply-felt love and both are naive enough to believe that Devdas' tyrannic father would allow them to be together and get married. Well, he doesn´t (he sees the reputation of the family endangered since Paro's family is from a lower caste).

Devdas leaves the family's house and seeks refuge in a brothel where an old friend now lives. After not standing up to his father, he makes the second fatal mistake that will eventually put everything into a down-ward spiral. He sends his great love a letter falsely stating that there was never love between them and that she should forget about him. He later realizes his mistake, but it´s too late. The letter put the final nail into the coffin of Paro and Devdas' living happily ever after. She marries a considerably older man of wealth (a widower who has three almost-adult children already and states that she will never have the same regard in his eyes like his first wife had).

Will Chandramukhi be able to save him?
With Paro unreachable now, his life seems like a mere shadow of the life he must have been leading back in London. He takes on drinking and becomes a womanizer, with only one thing on his mind: Paro. It's all he can think about - he lives on the memories of their ill-fated love.When going to his lawyer friend he meets with a courtesan,  Chandramukhi (Madhuri Dixit). She falls in love with him, but he resists her for a long time. She, however, would sacrifice everything she has for him and his happiness. She is the heart and soul of the story, sees the longing he has for the other woman, but still keeps on giving him harbor. Eventually and very gradually he ends up falling in love with her also, thus getting her a bad reputation. The alcohol has taken its toll by now and it seems that everything is lost for him....

Why is this film so special and why should you watch it?

1. For cinematography reasons, the stunning dances, the colors etc. 

Dola Re Dola [gif source]
You honestly have to see for yourself. But to make things a little easier for you: You don´t get such a overall perfect film every day. Yes, the film is visually stunning, the cinematography is fantastic, the story is heart-breaking, the dances and the songs are divine and nothing but perfect. The film is more like a poem, an ode to love and what it can do to you, than just a movie. There is symbolism in everything beginning with the oil lamp Paro lights for Devdas, up to the matching dresses of both Paro and Chandramukhi during their iconic "Dola Re Dola" dance (or in this scene). All the colors, the dances, the songs, the dialogues will suck you into this world of that film and you will forget everything around you (for 3 hours at least). But the one thing that makes it so special for me, is the acting; by every single actor of the cast.

2. For the actors and their stunning performances

Give that man all the awards for this performance
The three leading actors are some of the biggest stars of their time and every single one of them (and the supporting cast as well) are nothing but brilliant. There is no other word to describe the performances. It doesn´t surprise me, that all three of them won awards for their respective roles. 

Shah Rukh Khan plays the role of Devdas with such an intensity that you are being left in awe and and you just want to jump into the film and set things right.  Devdas is a troubled and very complex character. He is this kind of braggy guy when he arrives from London, but it turns out that he is a very sensitive man who who wanted nothing more than being accepted and loved by his father. Living heaven on earth for a very short time, being able to be himself, the funny, charming and loving Devdas, he very soon turns into the bitter version of himself who feels rejected and unloved by everyone and his only refuge is alcohol. You have to see for yourself to know what I mean when I say that this movie shows once again why Shah Rukh Khan is the king of Bollywood. This was one of the most daring, intense and best performances I have seen by an actor so far. And he never ceases to amaze you with it.

As beautiful as the moon but also just as sad
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan is stunning. Outside India she is probably known for being the most beautiful woman today, but she is much more than that. She is a very gifted actress who plays her role as Paro with such dedication. You really get the feeling that this stunningly beautiful woman who is vain, proud and so full of love would also have gone to the end of the world for Devdas. But she simply had all cards set against her. She is the moon, while he is the sun. Lovers that are never be meant to be together. And you really want her to be happy. She is overwhelmed by everything when Devdas' letter arrives and it´s like she is a girl whose whole world has collapsed and has no idea where to go, what to do and who to lean on (besides her mother). She is a very fragile person and gets thrown into a life she never wanted but now is forced to live. And she is so strong and tries her best to make the best out of things.

This will be you at the end of the movie
Madhuri Dixit's Chandramukhi is the heart and soul of the movie. We all know what a divine dancer she is, that she is considered to be one of the best dancers nowadays, if not even one of the best dancers of all time, but she is just as wonderful as an actress and in this film she can show both of those talents. She plays this incredibly fascinating and strong woman who knows her power and falls in love for the first time - in a way that leaves you in awe almost as much like it does with Shah Rukh Khan. She is a woman who has chosen a profession she most probably did not choose voluntarily. She is very good at what she does. One day something happens to her she never thought possible. She falls in love with someone, so deeply, that she wants to do anything in her power to help him. We see her suffer for the man of her heart, see how he treats her and her reactions. We know that she is someone who is supposed to be cool when it comes to emotions, but we see how she is so not cool with her feelings for Devdas. We see behind that gorgeous façade, for the person she really is. She is yearning for love just as much as Devdas is. She just as lonely. Madhuri Dixit plays the role with such conviction that you end up catching yourself looking forward (almost waiting) to her scenes.

4. For the story and the overall theme

The film is about undying and infinite love, a love of a man for a woman, unrequited love, but it´s also about hatred and greed. How does one manage if the one true thing in life you live for is the one thing you cannot have? How do you handle emotions for a person who doesn´t care about you? Is it possible for a man to hate as much as he loves? Can you ever get over a love you felt so deeply that you thought you have to die? This combined with the vivid colors of the film and the songs that were written with special purpose (it took 2.5 years to compose them, so you can imagine all the work and also the love for detail in this film) really sets this story about the love triangle between Devdas, Paro and Chandramukhi apart from other movies. 

Is there anything negative about the movie (at all)?

Let me think......umm.... no. There isn´t. Ohh okay, there is one thing. The only bad thing about this film is the fact that in 2014 this film still hasn´t got a Blu-Ray release (at least where I live), which is a crime. The DVD quality could be better and a lot of people are yearning for a BD version of this movie and it would kill you. It would honestly blow your mind with its beauty. We can only hope that one day soon we will get it in such a quality. 

If that got you intrigued, here is the trailer:

That said, what are you waiting for? Go watch the film! And get handkerchiefs and don´t blame me when you are a mess at the end. I warned you.


Thursday, October 2, 2014

7 reasons to start loving Norma Shearer & accepting her as a feminist icon

"I feel the morals of yesterday are no more. They are as dead as the day they were lived. Economic independence has put a woman on the same footing as a man. A discriminating man and a fastidious woman now amount to the same identical thing. There is no difference." ~ Norma Shearer

Usually when people ask me about my favorite actresses one of my immediate answers is: Norma Shearer, which usually results in confused looks "Who?". Since I am used to people not knowing her anymore and I accepted the ignorance of a lot of people who just do not know her, I usually either have the reply "Oh, she was an actress from the 1920s and 30s, but mainly 30s who was the queen back in the day and was amazing.", which would be the short version or I say something about her amazingly feminist pre-code roles and end up flailing about her. None of the answers do her justice.
And the fact that she had been badmouthed for a time - probably because her roles back in the day might have been just a bit too feminist for men then - and banning her pre-code movies are the reasons why not many people know her. 
I try to change that wherever I can but there are still a lot of people who still think she was some kind of cold-hearted, calculating witch. Since she was anything but that, I want to tell you why you should drop everything you do right now and accept Norma as a feminist icon and as a great legendary actress.

1. She showed courage in her film roles and became the epitome of the modern woman who is equal to a man in a men´s world with her movies.

Let´s start off with her movies (this point alone could fill entire books). She was an actress of the so-called pre-code Hollywood. Or rather; Shearer was the queen of the pre-code films.

"Pre-production code films were made from 1929-1934. They were interesting, because they explored subjects that would be relevant in today’s society. They had themes of violence, drug abuse, and sexuality. The thing that was so “naughty” about these films was that most of the sexual encounters were controlled by women. The actresses in these movies gave strong performances as intelligent, independent, and, yes, sexual people. The roles were such departures from the housewife/stereotypical characters women usually played in classic cinema.
There were some great actresses in pre-code films. There was Norma Shearer, Greta Garbo, and Barbara Stanwyck. Actresses got to personify the promiscuity of the typical “male stereotype,” and turn it into many complex characters that were also successful and strong-willed. To me, it was so refreshing to find women get to be as comfortable in their sexuality as a man in the world. Even so, the women were so much more than that. It was inspiring to observe these powerful and strong characters, who just happened to be women." [source]

She opened up a new era of women in film when she played the leading role in the 1930s movie "The Divorcee", which earned her an Oscar. With her powerful portrayal of a woman who challenges the hypocrisy the double-standards after finding out that her husband has been cheating on her but tries to trivialize the matter, to leave Jerry (Shearer) holding the baby and make her feel guilty for reacting the way she did. Initially stating that the two are equals in the marriage, that both should be treated the same, she rebels against the patriarchal ideal of marriage, where a husband can betray the wife and get away with it but the wife cannot. Jerry does not accept her husband's affair and goes off and "balances their accounts". Her husband Ted finds this unacceptable. She leaves him declaring: "So look for me in the future where the primroses grow and pack your man's pride with the rest. From now on, you're the only man in the world that my door is closed to."

No other movie at that time had as much impact like this one about the breakup of a marriage. And if you imagine this film today with an A-list actress, you will not find one: "It is one thing to accept that ´The Divorcee` was bold for 1930. The more profound realization is that it would be considered audacious today" (LaSalle). This movie was revolutionizing for the time and it is still regarded as one of the most important films of the pre-code era.

But that wasn´t the only movie where she set new standards and held up the mirror to the menfolk. Another movie of that calibre was "A Free Soul" (1931). Shearer, draped in gorgeous and very daring Adrian costumes plays the daughter of an alcoholic lawyer (Lionel Barrymore) who successfully defends a criminal of his murder charges. Jan Ashe (Shearer) takes up with the gambler (Clark Gable) who excites her. At first she is completely enchanted by his different life style and his world but eventually becomes disenchanted and sees him for what he is and tries to break away from him - whereupon he pushes her around. The character follows her own rules, she is not in love with the criminal, she just wants him for the excitement and sex. She applies men´s rules of "not wanting anything serious, just fun" and turns the tables on men once again.
"Yet even as the era hit full sail, it would usually be [Norma] Shearer who managed to be more daring than the rest [...] Shearer's films carried a social implication, suggesting that the stories were emblematic of larger truths. That consciousness of social purpose makes Shearer's movies especially satisfying to modern viewers searching for something racy and unexpected" (LaSalle, 2000: 12ff.).
A Free Soul (1931) - [source]

2. She was independent, determined and (to contrary believe) absolutely not dependable on anyone (least of all her husband)

I was always of the opinion that she would have made it to the top without any male help. Many people believed and still believe the opposite. They say she only got where she was because of "boy wonder" Irving Thalberg. Everyone who knew her agrees with me, however. As Robert Montgomery said:
"I was not the only one who felt Norma has such a strong inner drive, such a fierce discipline, she would have made it to all-out stardom no matter what the circumstances of her life."
photographer: George Hurrell
She was a lioness, who fought for the things she believed in and by virtue of her hard-won position during the 1930s as the First Lady of the Screen she collected no less than six Academy Award nominations and won once (as mentioned before). Yes, she was married to the gifted producer Irving Thalberg, but for the longest time she was forced to play the role of the sweet, innocent, madonna-like woman. She was a first-class talent and got restless with the roles her husband had for her. So she went out and looked for something new, something exciting. After reading Ursula Parrott's novel "Ex-Wife", she saw the potential of it and of the dramatic complexities it offered and was determined to play the role on screen (successfully). Her husband didn´t think much of that. He told her, she would not succeed in a sexy role and tried to talk her out of it. He did not believe in it at all. So she took matters into her own hand and secretly went unknown photographer George Hurrell who would become famous because of her. She worked with him and posed for him for several nights. The result were some very sophisticated yet sexy photographs, which she presented to her husband during breakfast soon after. He was amazed by what he saw and gave her the green light for the movie "The Divorcee".

It was a similar case with "A Free Soul". Thalberg had doubts that it might be too much but Norma Shearer did not agree with him at all. She knew how strong the female character was and fought tooth and nail to be able bring it onto the screen. She got Frances Marion to draft a script for a possible movie. Eventually her husband knuckled under from all the pressure and bought the novel on which the movie was based upon. It was shot and not only made her an even bigger superstar, it also made Clark Gable an over-night sensation.

Marie Antoinette was another example like this. But I will talk about that later on. These are just two examples who show very well that she got what she wanted and did not need a man to guide her and tell her what to do. Or as director Sam Wood put it, who claimed as well that she would have made it to top stardom with or without Thalberg:
"The drive, combined with that talent, and her wonderful capacity for discipline - she was a winner from the start. Some called her perfectionist - well, isn't genius the capacity for taking infinite pains?"

3.  She once accidentally knocked out co-star Robert Montgomery (so much for men being physically stronger)

In 1931 she starred in the adaption of the Broadway comedy "Private Lives" opposite Robert Montgomery. Highlight of the play (and of the film) is a knock-down-drag-out fight between the two. Noel Coward voiced doubts that the two had the skills for such a man-woman fight but would have to be proven wrong. Norma would even accidentally knock her male co-star unconscious while filming this physical scene. 
"We were engaging in a no-holds barred fight scene and we were knocking each other around pretty hard. Norma could pack a mean left, and she got so carried away in her enthusiasm, her desire to give ‘em a show, that she knocked me into a screen and I landed flat on my derrière and went out cold. I remember her kneeling over me begging me to forgive her. It was a nice way to "come to" and of course I did forgive her - but Louella Parsons was wrong when she claimed in print that we sealed our reconciliation with a kiss - it was a handshake as I remember." [also to be found here on tumblr]
Private Lives (1931) - [source]
So much for men being superior over men physically.

4. She was a very kind, gracious and protective woman who listened to everyone's troubles

I always think a person´s smile tells a lot about someone. And in case of Norma's smile it fits 100%. The way she smiled was her character, the way she treated others. Look at her smile and you know the person behind it. Ramon Navarro with whom she worked on in "The Student Prince of Old Heidelberg"(1927) can vouch for that. According to him "people came to her as to a mother". She understood people and the inner agonies of men (and women too?) who were homosexual but had problems dealing with it and dealing with the way society treated them. She had absolutely no problem with them, on the contrary. She became the recipient of many sad confidences over the years (even Charles Laughton confided in her). 

When she made "The Student Prince of Old Heidelberg" with Navarro she knew that he was gay. His sexual orientation was unofficially known to a lot of people, including director Ernst Lubitsch. While both stars (Shearer and Navarro) had problems adjusting to Lubitsch's approach, Navarro was the one who had to feel it the most. Lubitsch loved gossip and intrigue and found American puritanism amusing. He began injecting homosexual overtones in Navarro´s scenes with others, which Ramon only understood too well and felt unhappy and uncomfortable with. Norma played the peacemaker between director and actor quite a few times. But when things went too far, was when Norma stepped in, in her subtle way to help Ramon. Lubitsch had singled out (according to King Vidor) a gay young bit player for Navarro to place his arm around and laugh and sing with him. He kept demanding take after take until Shearer faked a fainting spell and released Navarro from his torture.

Other than those occasions she always helped young actors feeling comfortable in front of the camera, how to act, gave them tips and just made them feel comfortable. She was no scene stealer either. Of course she was aware of everything that went on (light, camera, angles etc.) and she watched that her scenes were perfect but she gave the other actors their scenes as they were a team and were working together and it would be no good if one actor steals all the scenes and the rest is being left behind. She was a great actress to work with. Just as Fredric March said, she always gave her best in front of the camera and expected the others to do the same. 

There are more occasions where she showed her graciousness (like helping actors getting money or keeping up the spirit of one actress/ friend who had cancer etc) but I think you get the picture here.

5. Once and for all, let´s get rid of the "she was a bad mom" rumor. She was not.

She was a wonderful mother, she was the motherly type. Hedda Hopper and Florence Eldrige are among the many who can tell you the opposite. Motherhood suited her. She was a hard-working actress, a determined one who had definite plans for her career and her future, and there was nothing that could stop her. But she would never let her children feel that. She always saved a few hours of the day to play with her children and be there for them. She never talked about them publicly or dragged them into the limelight either. It was one of her rules. She would not answer questions about them. They were protected, she was the lioness protecting her cubs - and you can take that literally. And they turned out to be decent people too. Irving Jr, (born 1930) was a scholarly, retiring man who shunned the Hollywood limelight and lifestyle and became a university professor of philosophy, while daughter Katherine (born in 1935) also shunned publicity and Hollywood settled for a career as a housewife and mother. Their children´s lives attest to her qualities as a great parent. (Besides if you look at her interacting with children in movies, it´s nothing but adorable).

6. She almost single-handedly got "Marie Antoinette" on its feet and done

on set [source]
This movie was her first after her husband's death. As one can imagine she was nervous, but equally determined to get this film done. She wanted to do it for her late husband and because she was fascinated by the French queen. After a script was finally ready, it began with a quarrel and a lot of tears about the director. Sidney Franklin was supposed to be the director - Norma´s favoured director. But Mayer would have none of that as he feared it would take too long aka it would cost too much. So, he assigned Woody "one take" Van Dyke who was known for shooting films at a neck-breaking pace and for only doing one take and going on to the next set ("The Thin Man" was shot in 2 weeks). And he did that with Marie Antoinette (not really caring what was going on in front as long as he got his shot). He shot a film with 162-minutes of length  in only ten weeks. Norma was left on her own and she was forced to deal with it on her own. She wanted the movie to be great. So she had to take the matter into her own hands. Quietly she took painstaking rehearsals with all the actors, so that everybody knew what to do when the shot was ready.
"She performed a miracle on that film. She actually ran the whole show, had her own part down pat, and was wonderfully resourceful in getting us all to play back to her on her own terms and on her own level. The picture would have been nothing without her." - Joseph Schildkraut
Her experience in film helped a lot, she had learned so much through the years from so many different directors, producers, cinematographers etc that she knew as much about lightning and camera angles as the cinematographer of the film. She had to show all her hidden strengths. She ended up having to function as director, producer, star, cinematographer and other roles. And the result is a masterpiece.

7. She fought powerful men and won

After Irving Thalberg's death a quarrel broke out between Mayer and Schenk and other MGM executives concerning how much the Thalberg estate would receive from the profits of future MGM movies. Mayer said that Thalberg was entitled to nothing because he was dead. So they basically wanted it all. After fighting a breakdown, pneumonia and depression Norma was by now back to her old self and she would have none of that. Her main concern was that her children´s future was to be secure. She fought like a lioness and made it very clear to Mayer and Schenk, that she and her lawyers would fight till the end, so that everything of her late husband's estate would be handed over to her. Long story short, she fought the two men fiercely and won.

As a final word that summarises Shearer's status as a sole woman in the acting business, screenwriter Anita Loos put it wonderfully:
"She owned a piece of the company, for heaven's sake! She got her full share of defence, believe you me! As an individual, she was actually more powerful than before Irving's death! And she knew it. No one tried to upstage her. She could be gracious and kind, but she was never weak or easy; always she uphelpd her hard-won prerogatives." 
Can you imagine such a woman with such star magnitude, influence and knowledge about any department in the film business in today's Hollywood? A woman who would be top director, a great cinematographer and the superstar (who was very good at "public relations" as well) all at once? People would adore her! Yet, they barely know her now. 

Other sources & recommended books:

  • LaSalle, Mick (2000). Complicated Women. Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood. New York: St. Martin's Griffin.
  • Quirk, Lawrence J. (1988). Norma. The Story of Norma Shearer. New York: St. Martin's Press.