Do you remember where you were on Wednesday, March 11th, 2020?
I do. I was having lunch with a friend at George’s Chicken at Bloor & Bathurst. I can’t remember what we talked about but I know it wasn’t Covid-19. The overhead TV was on and I remember a newscaster reporting that the NBA had suspended its season due to a player testing positive for the coronavirus but I didn’t think that would affect me. After lunch, my friend and I parted ways and I hopped on the subway to shop for some vintage inspired seamed stockings at Damsels and then I headed to Brentwood Library to pick up a book and a few DVDs that I had placed on hold. I had no idea that by Saturday these simple pleasures – lunch with a friend, clothes shopping and visiting the public library – would be impossible. That day now feels like something out of a dream.
I was thinking about this as I recently watched Our Modern Maidens (1929). The movie is a follow up – though not a sequel – to MGM’s smash hit Our Dancing Daughters (1928), the flapper film that turned the budding young starlet Joan Crawford into a bona fide superstar. In addition to the top-billed Crawford, both movies also feature Anita Page and Edward Nugent, but make no mistake: the real stars of these “mad youth/high society/jazz baby” films are the elaborate sets, glittering gowns, fancy cars and flapper bling. This is Art Deco porn at its most indulgent. Champagne parties (“lunch is poured!”); fireworks viewed from a yacht; sex in a Rolls-Royce; plenty of orchids, feathers and furs and – oh yeah – Joan Crawford dancing half naked in a speakeasy: Our Modern Maidens puts the “roar” in the Roaring Twenties. The film was released on September 8th, 1929: six and a half weeks before Black Thursday and the start of the Great Depression. Talk about a party crash!
Continue reading “Crashing the Party: “Our Modern Maidens (1929)” and the Inevitable Ticking of the Clock.”
Yep, this “brick & mortar” gal is having a virtual party to celebrate the release of my 1930’s themed debut novel Filthy Sugar!
The music was fast, the booze was cheap, the times were tough but the dames were tougher…
Join Toronto author Heather Babcock to celebrate her debut novel, Filthy Sugar, published by Inanna Publications (inanna.ca).
Featuring an in-depth Q&A session with Heather, moderated by Liz Worth, and a special performance by Neil Traynor on the ukulele.
Make yourself a drink from the specially-themed recipe suggestions you will receive when you RSVP, and join us in raising a toast to Filthy Sugar.
When: Thursday, June 4, 2020; 7:30pm EST // RSVP below to get all the details you’ll need to attend!
RSVP here: https://mailchi.mp/248144d4ab21/speakeasy
Thank you to my good friend Liz Worth for organizing this!
The Parade’s Gone By
Miss Desmond, your boy was right:
The parade’s gone by,
I heard it’s moved online –
A nice place to visit but
I sure as hell don’t want to live
Where I can only touch
What I cannot feel.
“We didn’t need dialogue. We had faces!” you cried,
But Norma, now that’s all we got:
Talking heads, ephemeral shadows
Locked behind a screen
And I can’t get a connection.
Yes Miss Desmond, the parade has indeed passed us by;
It’s been a week but I can still hear the stomping of the boots in my ears,
My hope waving good-bye to a tardy Santa Claus,
I am forbidden to touch.
– Heather Babcock, March 2020
Note: This is not a political poem. I wrote this Sunday morning as a way to work through the anxiety and fear that I have been experiencing due to the Covid-19 shutdowns. I thought that Norma Desmond – the fictional silent film star from Sunset Boulevard (1950), a woman who is described by her younger lover as “waving to a parade that had long passed her by”- was a good symbol for the way that I am feeling right now. The difference is that Norma mourned the passing of silence while I miss the noise.
So very much. ❤
We are all experiencing the loss right now of our regular day-to-day way of living. As with any loss, many of us are experiencing the stages of grief, which include shock, denial, bargaining and depression. I always thought of myself as an introvert but this crisis has shown me how important human interaction is: social distancing is necessary right now but it’s also very disheartening and, well, lonely.
During this time, I have found some comfort in movies made during Hollywood’s saucy Pre-Code period, which took place from 1930 to mid-1934, during the darkest days of the Great Depression. Although there are many excellent social dramas from this era – films such as Heroes for Sale (1933) and I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932) – which, with their focus on income equality and corrupt bureaucracy remain relevant today, Hollywood was also pumping out loads of escapist fare meant to lend a little hope and cheer: two things I think we all could use right now.
What follows is just a handful of my favorite Pre-Code escapist films. Feel free to list your own favorites in the comment section. Continue reading “Depression-era movies were made for this time: Top Pre-Code Escapist Films”
“Surely not many a silver screen star can write, produce and slice her own nitrate. I take pride in my skills but without a distribution deal, these talents remain ‘in the can’, as we say – invisible, worthless. Tomorrow the studio heads will wave their magic wands of approval – or not. I believe we have good prospects if I can dodge the (creditors) by the fire escape one more day. (…) There are so many stories yet to be told and sold in our future. Tomorrow. Thank God, there is tomorrow.” – Nell Shipman
One hundred years ago, before Wall Street moved in and before the domination of the large studio system, women ruled Hollywood: in front of and behind the scenes, they wrote the stories, shot the scenes, managed production budgets and dreamed up the publicity scenarios that turned everyday shop girls into superstars. One of the most fearless of these early film pioneers was Nell Shipman, a Canadian born director, actress (who performed all of her own stunts!), producer, screenwriter, novelist and animal rights activist and trainer. I recently discovered Nell during a midnight screening of Back to God’s Country (1919), an action-adventure blockbuster that she both wrote and starred in. I was equal parts surprised, delighted and enchanted by Nell’s earthy sensuality (her infamous skinny-dipping scene is more joyful than salacious) and the feminist tone of the film (her character – a woman surviving in the harsh Canadian wilderness – is no damsel in distress but rather a defiant dame). The thoughtful portrayal and gentle handling of the many animals in the film is also refreshing; at a time when most other nature filmmakers were as likely to shoot animals as they were to film them, Nell Shipman emphatically advocated for the humane treatment of animals in movies and spoke out against animal cruelty.
Continue reading “In Honour of International Women’s Day: Remembering Film Pioneer Nell Shipman”
“Nobody watches silent movies anymore”.
I was a little taken aback when I read the above quote recently in an otherwise well-researched book about Pre-Code film. Nobody watches silent movies anymore? Tell that to the audiences who flocked to the Fox and the Revue Cinema this past weekend to watch two silent classics: It (1927) and The Hands of Orlac (1924). In spite of the unusually mild February weather, both films played to a packed house.
Being a huge fan of Clara Bow, I was excited to see her on the big screen in the film that immortalized her as the original “IT Girl”: on Saturday, the Toronto Silent Film Festival screened It (1927) at the Fox theatre in the Beaches, with live music accompaniment by Tania Gill. Prior to the film, my beau and I checked out the merchandise table where I picked up some sassy Clara Bow buttons for a toonie each and he found a cool Marilyn Monroe biography for only one dollar! Regrets? I have a few: there was a Gloria Swanson DVD collection for $20.00 which I unwisely passed up (I figured I should keep my cash for groceries but really, when choosing between bread and Gloria, one should always choose Gloria!). I couldn’t resist asking my beau to snap a photo of me under the Fox’s vintage Candy Bar sign (pictured).
Continue reading “Silents Please!: Silent Movies are Alive and Well in Toronto”
“The Big Shots aren’t little crooks like you. They’re politicians.”
If Karl Marx baked a birthday cake and laced it with marijuana, the results would probably be very similar to You and Me (1938), a delicious grab bag of a movie which combines humour, film-noir, romance, musical numbers and a social message all to delightful – and dizzying – effect. But what did Paramount expect when they asked Fritz Lang, the German director best known for his Weimar-era expressionist films such as Metropolis (1927) and M (1931), to direct a romantic comedy?
Continue reading “Once Upon a Time…Fritz Lang Made a Romantic Comedy (You and Me, 1938)”