Film legend Vivien Leigh was born Vivian Mary Hartley on November 5th, 1913 in Darjeeling, India, where her father served as a British Officer in the Indian Cavalry. Soon Vivian, who would later change the spelling of her name to Vivien with an “e” on the advice that it looked more feminine, found herself in her English homeland. At the tender age of six, her parents sent her alone to the UK to attend the Convent of the Sacred Heart boarding school in Roehampton. The subsequent culture shock and homesickness were understandably rough at first but it was during her years at Roehampton that her desire to be an actress became set in stone.
Later she attended the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, though for awhile it looked as though her acting ambitions would be eclipsed (and her RADA studies were suspended) by her marriage at 19 to barrister Leigh Holman (the source of her stage name “Leigh”) and the birth of a daughter, Suzanne. But the newly-christened Vivien Leigh was bound and determined to be a star and threw herself into building a successful career. Early stage victories like her sensation-producing turn in the 1935 production The Mask of Virtue caught the attention of theatre star Laurence Olivier and the rest as they say was history. Her fiery affair with Olivier and later marriage captured the imagination of audiences–they are still considered to be one of the great couples of all time–and not too long after their meeting, Leigh conquered America and the silver screen by snatching perhaps the most-coveted female role in film history: Scarlett O’Hara in 1939′s Gone with the Wind).
The Most Famous Role in Film History: Scarlett O'Hara, "Gone with the Wind"
She would go on to give several well-received performances in film and on stage, winning Academy Awards for Gone with the Wind and her riveting performance as Blanche Dubois in the 1951 screen adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ play A Streetcar Named Desire.
Sadly, throughout her life, Leigh was plagued by both recurring tuberculosis (the disease that eventually took her life at the age of 54) and severe manic depression. In addition, her marriage to Olivier was a rocky one, and the couple divorced in 1960. In her final years, she did not make many screen appearances but her last role is an acting triumph: Mary Treadwell in 1965′s Ship of Fools.
Blanche Dubois: Williams' Tragic Heroine Echoed Leigh's Own Private Battles
She died on July 7th, 1967 in her home in England, due to complications from a tuberculosis relapse she suffered that spring while rehearsing for a West End production of the play A Delicate Balance. Considered one of the most beautiful actresses to ever grace stage or screen, Leigh’s skills as an actress were never quite given their due during her lifetime–despite the two Oscar wins–but since her death, it is happy to note, her talents as a performer have drawn greater recognition and praise. Dear Vivien, who left us all too soon, will always be remembered fondly in our hearts.
Vivien Leigh, 1913 - 1967.
~By Mary Bowen, Krasker Film/Video Services
It has only been in the past year that we at Krasker began tagging titles in our catalog with the subject heading Films: Feature Foreign (Canadian/Quebecois French), but the need for such a designation is clear. Canadian cinema is fertile ground for critical analysis–a country whose home-grown talent offers up a unique perspective on the world and which is, increasingly, exploring this point of view with daring visual gusto.
Too often Canadian filmmakers have been overlooked in this country–or rather their “Canadianness” has been overlooked, as scholars and critics treat their works as a sort of extension of U.S. cinema, thereby blurring the borders that define Canadian cultural and aesthetic experience to the point of invisibility. Furthermore, when an attempt to distinguish Canadian Cinema from our own is made, Canadian film is all too often portrayed as a counterpoint to the United States experience–the quirky neighbor to the North, a pale imitation of the United States, Hollywood on a shoe-string budget in a colder climate. Adding a complicated layer to these modes of interpretation is the long-standing tradition of Hollywood, lured by financial incentives, to use Canadian locations as “stand-ins” for places in the United States. Indeed, the repackaging of Canada as the United States has been a profitable business for our northern neighbors, and an ironic detriment to the native Canadian film industry. A shrewd analysis of this practice’s effect on global and native perceptions of the Canadian cinema can be found in David L. Pike’s essay (featured in Bright Lights Film Journal) Across the Great Divide: Canadian Popular Cinema in the 21st Century.
So “What does Canada say about us?” cries the US! Often the answer is a smug confirmation of the States’ “superiority,” with portrayals of Canadians as quaint, ineffectual rubes that stand no chance of undermining the U.S.’s premium on “savvy”. One consistent Canadian response to this arrogance is to revel in self-deprecation, exploring the Canadian “inferiority complex” through the medium of comedy, a tactic that, when taken to its subversive extreme has succeeded in launching a huge cream pie in the puss of its southern cousins. At the epicenter of this rebellion is the iconoclastic comedy troupe The Kids in the Hall, whose television show which ran in the 1980s and 90s set the gold standard for Canadian rebellion–in contrast, the weak as water cuppa served up by fellow comedian Mike Myers missed the mark with its air of pandering to Hollywood’s perception of Canada as a nation with a perpetually low self-esteem.
And hence we return to the sad state of affairs that Canadian film has rarely been assessed in its own right, leaving us to ponder the question, “What is the Canadian voice, if not merely a tentative acquiescence to U.S. superiority?” Like most cinema produced outside the U.S., it has been credited with a greater cerebralness, taking stock in the hallmarks of independent cinema: less flash, more talk, more thought. Indeed, one of the seminal works of Canadian cinema, Patricia Rozema’s I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing (1987) is a film that sensitively portrays people whose lives fall outside the false glitter and glamour of the Hollywood dream factory, and has been warmly embraced as a story that rings truer than the template-driven popcorn movie. However it must not be overlooked that Rozema’s masterwork offers up a unique and daring aesthetic that helped usher in a greater emphasis on avant-garde sensory experience and it is crucial to note that one of the major attributes that increasingly distinguishes Canadian film today is the realm of the visual–as more and more filmmakers push the envelope of ocular rapture.
Patricia Rozema's "I've Heard the Mermaid's Singing" Fuses the Thematically Contemplative with the Visually Arresting.
The visual? Ocular rapture? Canada? Again we confront the limitations people feel compelled to place on Canadian artistic expression. Yet to discover Canadian cinema as a landscape with more to offer than snowy vistas and maple leaves is to be delighted–and one such filmmakers that exemplifies this trend (and whose work can be found in the Krasker collection!) is Guy Maddin.
It is hard to describe the work of Guy Maddin…a few words and phases come to mind: a pastiche, cinematic collage gone wild, a fusion of silent era filmmaking aestethic and the contemporary, certifiably insane. Perhaps you just have to check it out for yourself and two works in our collection that Maddin is perhaps most identified with are The Saddest Music in the World (2003) and Brand Upon the Brain! (2006). The Saddest Music in the World tells the warped saga of a Winnipeg-based brewery owner Lady Port-Huntley (Isabella Rosselini), who also happens to be a double amputee covetous of a man’s glass prosthetic limbs, and her deranged search for–you guessed it!–the saddest music in the world. She launches an international contest to find this elusive musical treasure and subsequently several storylines converge as people race to Winnipeg for the contest. Maddin sets his Winnipeg in the dark days of the Great Depression, and appropriately plumbs the depths of 1920s and 1930s cinema in creating an at times overwhelming visual experience. If Joseph von Sterberg and Busby Berkeley had a child, who then proceeded to go on an acid trip and take us a long for the ride, the result would be this film.
Echoes of Sternberg: Isabella Rossellini as the Amputee with Legs of Glass in Guy Maddin's "The Saddest Music in the World".
Maddin: Mixing Color and Black and White, as Well as Genres.
Baroness Lady Port-Huntley (Rossellini) Admires Her New Glass Legs.
Along the way, Maddin makes some deft observations about U.S.-Canadian relations: one of the central characters is a patriotic Canadian at odds with his American ex-pat son and visions of a drab Winnipeg are tensely juxtaposed with over-the-top Hollywood styling. Furthermore, the at-all-times surreal aesthetic constantly considers and challenges stereotypical perceptions of Canada as the United States’s “plain Jane cousin,” and in so doing, Maddin casts Canadian filmmaking (and Canadian filmmakers) in the role of aggressor–assaulting the viewer with a visual feast that makes the usual U.S. fare taste bland in comparison.
Brand Upon the Brain! likewise provides a stunning visual experience, but whereas The Saddest Music in the World also revels in the aural Brand goes in the very opposite direction: it’s a silent film. Intriguingly, it is a film about Guy Maddin…or at least a version of Guy Maddin. In Brand we follow a young Guy as he wiles away his days on a strange island he will one day inherit. Mystery and odd characters abound, naturally, and the viewer can’t help but wonder what is Maddin trying to say about himself and his art? The silent film device begs a connection between the Canadian artist and a “silencing” of Canadian culture in general; the silence of Guy’s world makes the viewer ever-presently aware of it. At a time when sound film is the norm, the realm of the quiet grabs our attention as much as the silent screams of the bold cinematography and production design make us cock our heads to listen. It is worth noting that the original film did not have a recorded sountrack and upon initial screenings boasted live accompianment and foley artists for the production of sound effects–creating further distance between the Maddin’s Canada captured on screen and the ability to create a sound, a voice if you will, that people will pay attention to. A musical score was added later, however, and is provided on the Criterion DVD release available in the Krasker collection.
Fiction as Autobiography: Sullivan Brown Plays a Young Guy Maddin in "Brand Upon the Brain!".
Images Makes a Loud Noise: "Brand Upon the Brain!"
~By Mary Bowen, Krasker Film/Video Services