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Links for the day: Holiday in His Eye

 

Back in Brooklyn, down off Flatbush, they're showing a good, long string of Cary Grant movies at BAM. The series started Monday and runs every day—every day a new picture—through the 20th. Nearly all of the films are available on DVD (and YouTube), but a few are harder to see (those are sometimes on YouTube, too) and picture quality is sometimes spotty (ahem, YouTube). There are also a few notable omissions from the series, like, say, Monkey Business (1952) or Charade (the 1963 film screens tonight at 7:00 and 9:15 in Seattle at Metro Classics). But, of course, I'm no chooser, nor begger: if anything, the chance to see an all-time favorite, The Awful Truth (1937), on a big screen sounds like a mighty delicious haven from city grime (Sunday, August 20th).

Chances are, though, this is a retread and you're already familiar with Cary Grant. But when was the last time you read Pauline Kael's "The Man From Dream City"? Written in 1974, it offers a great reading of our star and his context, his appeal, his special powers. It's a sense of calm, and fun, that never demands nor aggresses; as she writes, his foreplay is "an artful dodge" that sparks, if not outright invites, curiosity. Kael claims his style to be a kind of generosity: "The most obvious characteristic of his acting is the absence of narcissism—the outgoingness to the audience." Her opener would have you believe Cary Grant, who also wanted to be Cary Grant, started that whole "women want him, men want to be him" thing. Whether or not that's true doesn't matter: he's still the romantic standard of cucumber cool.

Of course, though I can't remember when, my first swoon came long ago. Yet my slack-jaw admiration got grinning but serious after I found Stanley Cavell's Pursuits of Happiness a couple years ago. As some may know, Grant stars in four of the seven films looked at in that book and his physiognomy is given special attention, in particular as sage C.K. Dexter Haven in The Philadelphia Story (1940), to describe "his aliveness to himself." But my fealty came quicker—from the first page, truly, where, underneath a still from The Awful Truth (look up), we read this: "This man, in words of Emerson's, carries the holiday in his eye; he is fit to stand the gaze of millions." Tonight they're showing Holiday (1938) at 6:50 and 9:15.

To see that line up on a real screen…wow. Do you think there are still enough of us Grant fans around to appreciate such a magnificent series? Hats off to you for bringing this up, although it’s too late for me to catch a plane. I like how Grant nails, like no other actor since, the oddly charming aspects of characters who simultaneously convey petty outrage and naive self-absorption, and then turn on a dime to be a stand-up guy. Looking like a million dollars, suave one minute yet bewildered the next, is his best routine, and so far nobody does it better. I also dig early-mid period Cary Grant, when this movie star’s movie star could make mugging and clowning for the camera seem graceful and sort of cool. He also crafted a special kind of character during that phase: a guy smarter than anyone in the room, but nervously on the cusp of discovering an important truth that everyone else knows but hasn’t told him yet. He’s equally cunning and vulnerable in that context. Also, observing Grant glide across the screen in North By Northwest or Charade as the walking manifestation of grace under pressure, you have to wonder if a lot of actors didn’t throw in the towel back in the day. Speaking of N by NW, when Grant comes into the room front outside the building and surprises that delighted woman, he scolds her for a moment about her enthusiasm. Isn’t that a fourth-wall moment, or type of cameo, by which Grant is telling this lady to calm down about the fact that Cary Grant has just landed at the foot of her bed? It sounds like something Hitchcock might do.
Cary Grant is the greatest actor in the history of the cinema. His physical mastery, verbal dexterity ( the “Pinter Pause” is really his invention) and sexual ambiguity make him asolutely rivetting. Mix this with the illusion (that he spent years creating) that he really wasn’t doing anything special and you’ve got yourself a God!
Ryland: Coincidentally, I jut saw THE AWFUL TRUTH on the big screen— I took my daughter, a developing movie fan, and she loved it. It was wonderful seeing it, and Cary, that big
Doctor, spot on: “equally cunning and vulnerable” nails his charm. David, I’m pretty sure I agree with everything you wrote in that little comment that points at a lot of big things. Dennis, did you get cut off? In any case, that warms the soul. Not that The Awful Truth really needs any more fans, but if more people watched that movie instead of, say, The Ugly Truth of 2009 (which I haven’t seen, nor plan to), I’d wager they’d all be happier—and maybe smarter—and definitely classier. Oh, and thanks for stopping by with some thoughts, you three!
For those not in Brooklyn, nor with patience for Netflix/the internet, there’s a day of Cary Grant on TCM this Sunday.

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