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I saw both of these with ms_siobhan as a New Year's Eve double-bill at the Hyde Park Picture House yesterday, from our favourite seats on the left-hand side of the balcony.

45. Some Like It Hot (1959), dir. Billy Wilder

First of all, it does have to be acknowledged that this one particular film probably bears about 90% of the responsibility for the transphobic myth that trans women are really just straight dudes who want to infiltrate women-only spaces and ogle cis women. It didn't invent that idea, and nor is it now necessarily the direct cause of most people absorbing it, but it is a major theme of the film, and must surely have given it a very big cultural boost. So I think it's important to say that whenever talking about this film, as a small way of helping to chip away at the real-world potency of that very damaging myth. On a similar note, I also found the scenes in which Tony Curtis' character, in persona as Shell Oil Junior, coerces Sugar into sex by pretending to be sexually unresponsive and in need of 'help' to fix him pretty gross as well. I get that disguise and deceit are ancient staples of romantic comedies, and never more so than in this one, but she was totally into his Shell Oil Junior character anyway. She would very obviously have willingly and enthusiastically have had sex with him without that extra layer of lies and manipulation, so to me they broke through the romantic comedy genre conventions and out into some distinctly rapey territory.

But I am perfectly capable of separating out those things from the rest of the film in my mind, and seeing it for the of-its-time romantic musical comedy it is meant to be. As a star vehicle for Monroe it is magnificent, with her performance of "I Wanna Be Loved By You" capturing her appeal perfectly. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon are perfectly paired as the two protagonists, the Chicago gangsters are brilliant, the music is great, the physical farce fantastic and the witty dialogue to die for. Plus, for all my reservations above, I also think that by showing male characters experiencing male treatment of women at first hand, and by including scenes with strong homosexual overtones (both lesbian ones between Sugar and Curtis-as-Josephine and the famous "Well, nobody's perfect" ending between Osgood and Lemmon-as-Jerry), it probably helped to achieve some social steps forwards as well as backwards. So, if the movie isn't perfect either, that doesn't mean it isn't still a great watch.

46. The Apartment (1960), dir. Billy Wilder

Part two of the double-bill was the next year's follow-up movie from the same production team, which brought back Jack Lemmon as the leading man. It's still a comedy, and starts out looking for all the world like a farce, but it has a dark undertone from the beginning, because of the way it portrays sleazy executives laughing it up together as they coldly conduct affairs in Lemmon's character's apartment, and him conniving in it for the sake of material promotion, while at the same time being very obviously strung along and exploited himself. Then, half-way through, the darkness bursts violently to the surface when one executive's to-him-casual (but to her serious) fling attempts suicide in the apartment. The overall arc is actually very moralistic - Lemmon discovers his moral compass and is rewarded with True Love, the chief sleazy executive gets his come-uppance, and the young lady (Miss Kubelik) rediscovers her sense of self-worth. But gosh, you do get put through the wringer along the way.

This made it a good second film for the double-bill, though. It felt a little more 'cerebral' than Some Like It Hot (if that's quite the right word), which worked well for its early evening slot once you'd been warmed up by the comedy first. It was certainly more moving, anyway - I found myself sniffing back tears as the end credits rolled, which you just wouldn't get from Some Like It Hot (unless, of course, Chicago mobsters had killed your grandmother, you insensitive clod). But it has in common with the other film all those classic qualities of slick pacing, seemingly effortless photography and of course a brilliant cast. Though his character isn't very nice, I actually thought Fred MacMurray was absolutely brilliant as Sleazy Executive Mr. Sheldrake, hitting that perfect note between oiliness and plausible charm which seems to be so characteristic of American Presidents (Nixon and Regan particularly spring to mind). It is essential to the whole plot that we should be able to believe Miss Kubelik might attempt suicide over him while simultaneously being able to see that he's a schmuck, so MacMurray had an important job to do there, and did it really well. I'd like to see more stuff with him in now on that basis. I also loved both the characterisation and the performances for the two Jewish neighbours, Dr. and Mrs. Dreyfuss - relatively small roles (especially hers), but ones which felt very human and three-dimensional al the same.

While Some Like It Hot has fun playing up the glamour of the 1920s jazz age, The Apartment is now just as fascinating for being set in its contemporary present day. I particularly enjoyed seeing how large-scale corporate office culture might have operated in 1960s America, complete with lobbies, elevators, desk diaries, rotary card index files, calculating machines and telephone exchanges. And I liked the insights into Lemmon's bachelor life-style as well, which was so close to and yet not quite the same as its equivalent today - frozen meals for heating up in the oven rather than microwave meals, a TV remote-control unit with a dial on it fixed to his table, and of course the time-honoured pokey apartment for one. In less cheery news from the 1960s, though, I was disquieted to realise that Miss Kubelik is obviously at risk of getting into trouble with the law for having attempted suicide, so that the whole thing has to be hushed up. We have moved beyond that, suicide-wise, in both the US and UK since, but that is still exactly where we are with drugs, leaving addicts unable to seek help for fear of punishment (not to mention at risk from unregulated products), and it's about damned time we sorted that out.

Back to The Apartment(!), it also turned out to be a Christmas / New Year film, which I guess was yet another reason (on top of release-date chronology and the tonal move from pure comedy to black comedy) why it needed to be the second half of the double bill. Miss Kubelik makes her suicide attempt on Christmas Eve, spends a few days recovering at Jack Lemmon's apartment, and then finally dumps her Sleazy Executive in favour of him on New Year's Eve. Not quite the Christmas-to-New-Year experience I would wish on anyone in reality, but still in its own way something to get us in the mood for our own NYE celebrations which followed.

Films watched 2014 round-up

Those, then, are my last two film write-ups of 2014, bringing the total number of films seen for the year to 46. That is the most films I've seen in a single year since I starting blogging them by some margin, easily beating 2010's total of 34, for the fairly obvious reason that I've been having a big British Gothic Horror Thing on this year. That's not absolutely all I saw, though, so I shall finish the year with some statistics:

1920s 2
1930s 3
1940s 0
1950s 7
1960s 13
1970s 12
1980s 2
1990s 2
2000s 1
2010s 4

Unsurprisingly there, the centre of gravity is in the 1960s and '70s, where British Gothic Horror lives, but I've seen more current films in the cinema than I'd realised, and a respectable scattering across the decades, too.

Tragedy 2
Romance 2
Classical Receptions 2
Sci-Fi / Fantasy 6
Comedy 7
Action / Crime 8
Foreign language 8
Vampire 17
Historical setting 24
Gothic / horror 28

Some of the genre categories I've used here overlap anyway, and of course many films clearly belong to more than one broad genre, so the total numbers here don't add up to 46. The leading categories will be no surprise, especially since most Dracula films tick all three of the final boxes. But other genres do get a look in, partly due to going to see interesting vintage screenings with ms_siobhan, and partly due to watching things I otherwise wouldn't solely because they had Christopher Lee in them. And who knew I had watched eight foreign-language films! I'd have guessed more like about two from memory alone. This, of course, is why actually recording things rather than relying on my memory is worthwhile.

The best film I saw this year still stands as Hammer's Dracula (1958), in spite of the fact that it is far from new to me, but many others were excellent as well. Commendable mentions go to The Wicker Man (1973), which isn't new to me either (though the sing-along version was), Dracula Untold (2014) and Dracula père et fils (1976). The worst by some considerable margin has to be Eugénie (1970), which has pretty much made me determined never to watch another Jess Franco film ever again.

And now I believe it is time to get started on my films watched in 2015. :-)

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( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 2nd, 2015 01:00 am (UTC)
Some Like It Hot is great; I viewed it multiple times in my teens as it was one of the first films my sister recorded off-air. I find it very difficult to associate the characters played by Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis with trans women. Their situations seem to me a long way removed from each other.
Jan. 2nd, 2015 11:41 am (UTC)
I find it very difficult to associate the characters played by Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis with trans women.

No, exactly - they have almost nothing in common. But sadly, Daily Mail-style transphobia appears oblivious to the difference, which is where the problem lies. While that obliviousness persists, any comedy portrayal of men cross-dressing to gain access to women's spaces is only going to stoke the fire.
Jan. 4th, 2015 03:08 pm (UTC)
The Apartment is one of my favourite movies of all time. I think your points about the role of Sheldrake are really well made.
Jan. 4th, 2015 06:03 pm (UTC)
I hadn't seen it before, but was really impressed. It had a lot of weight to it, while still remaining an effective comedy romance. It's definitely one I'll watch again in future, I think.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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