The “It” Girl

Have you ever seen a Clara Bow movie?!

I hadn’t until last night. I knew Clara Bow. I knew she was the sex symbol of the 1920s. I knew she was this gorgeous, smokey-eyed darling of the Silent Film Era. But last night, I watched the movie that defined her image: It (not to be – and how could it – confused with that creepy Curry clown movie).

I’m currently in rehearsals for The Boy Friend down at Renton Civic Theatre, and as a part of my research, I decided to watch a silent film comedy or two to get into the 1920s spoof of it all. I found It in a library’s silent film collection and thought that the plot sounded just right: shopgirl Clara Bow falls for big boss Antonio Moreno. I turned it on, thinking I would watch 30 minutes or so, pick up some mannerisms, and then move on to an episode of Friends before bed. But I got hooked! I watched all 70-ish minutes with a smile. What a delight!

When my siblings and I were little, we made extensive use of our local library’s (small) movie collection. That meant we watched recorded ballets, nearly every episode of Faerie Tale Theatre, and slapstick silent movies. To my shame, I had assumed most silent films, whether comedy or drama, all had that Keystone Cops buffoonery. I expected nothing more from Clara Bow and It. But it didn’t take long for me to realize my mistake. Clara Bow was natural, charming, believable, lovable. I fell for her in an instant.

And her character, Betty Lou, was no weak-willed damsel in distress. In fact, she was a hard-working girl, trying to maker her way, look after her single-mother friend, and struggle beneath labels and assumptions. I acknowledge that the film is not a picture of feminist perfection or anything, but I was surprised at how relatable I found Betty Lou. She could easily be a character you’d find in a contemporary indie comedy. And I loved that.

But Betty Lou wouldn’t be squat without Clara Bow. And as I watched, I felt that actorly longing that hits me when I watch Jessica Chastain, Meryl Streep, Amy Poehler, Patricia Clarkson, Sally Hawkins, Emma Thompson, etc. I wanted to be Clara Bow. Goofy, confident, uninhibited and human Clara Bow.

She stole my heart while stealing every scene, and I can’t wait to watch more.



Home-Spun Philosophy

Through Fathom Events, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) recently hosted a local screening of Rear Window, which I attended. TCM — bless their nostalgic hearts — book-ended the film with talk-show variety commentary and anecdotes about the making of the film from Ben Mankiewicz (a TCM regular, or so Google told me). He mentioned how this story wouldn’t even exist these days because no one watches their neighbors or even looks out of their windows; we’re all on Instagram, etc. I think he’s got it wrong….

“We’ve become a race of Peeping Toms. What people ought to do is get outside their own house and look in for a change. Yes sir. How’s that for a bit of homespun philosophy?” – Stella (Thelma Ritter), Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock)

This, right here, is why Rear Window is still quite relevant. What are Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr (yes, even Tumblr), but windows into our neighbors lives? We peep on friends, family, and strangers across the courtyard of social media. We are Jimmy Stewart’s L.B. Jeffries, peering into the lives around us. “Nah, this is different,” you say. “With social media, we all acknowledge that a little harmless social media stalking [how is that not more sinister?] is perfectly acceptable. Spying into someone’s open window is different!” Now, as Grace Kelly’s Lisa says, “I’m not much on rear window ethics,” and I’m not advocating tom peepery, but if you leave your window open, you are also silently agreeing to the fact that others will look. And just like Jeffries, we make all kinds of assumptions about what we see through our LCD windows. We assume that our friends lead far happier lives, that internet silence means someone is depressed, that a lack of “likes” actually means something in the real world, or that a delayed response after our words have been “seen” implies that we aren’t wanted. Sure, just like our open windows expose some truth about our lives, sometimes our online assumptions are correct, but what happened to the adage, never assume? Yes, Thorwald was guilty, but Jeffries wasn’t right about all of his neighbors: the Composer wasn’t doomed to failure and drunkenness, Miss Lonelyhearts wasn’t hopeless, and Miss Torso surprised us all with her military man.

This whole subject deserves much more than I can give it at present, but for now, here’s my point: maybe we should take Stella’s advice and shut down our digital binoculars, go for a walk, and (this part’s mine) ask questions of our friends and neighbors instead of making assumptions.

“How’s that for a bit of home-spun philosophy?”