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Jackie Cooper dies at the age of 88


Jackie Cooper was born John Cooper Jr in Los Angeles, California on 15th September 1922 to John Cooper, who deserted his family two years later, and Mabel Leonard Bigelow, a pianist and former child actress. Cooper’s connection with cinema was strong: his uncle on his mother’s side was the screenwriter Jack Leonard, while his aunt, the actress Julie Leonard was married to director Norman Taurog. Cooper’s mother re-married following his father’s departure. Her new husband was C. J. Bigelow, a studio production manager

Cooper’s first work in the cinema was as an extra – his grandmother would take him along to the studios in the hope that he would help her to win extra roles. Slowly, he graduated from being an extra to bit parts in films such as Fox Movietone Follies of 1929 and Sunny Side Up. It was his appearance in these films which led directly to his becoming a member of Hal Roach’s Our Gang after their director David Butler recommended him to Leo McCarey. His first appearance in the Our Gang films was in 1929 in the short Boxing Gloves. Initially taken on as a supporting character, he quickly rose to a leading role.

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Elizabeth Taylor dies at the age of 79

Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011)

Elizabeth Taylor was born in London, England on 27th February 1932. Her parents were American art dealers, and her mother had been a stage actress until she married. Taylor’s family moved to Los Angeles in 1939 when she was seven year’s old, where the suggestion of a family friend that she should attend a screen test resulted in the offer of a contract from Universal Studios. Taylor’s first film, a short entitled There’s One Born Every Minute, was released when she was just ten year’s old.

Taylor was subsequently signed by MGM to star in Lassie Come Home. Two tiny roles followed before she was cast as the female lead opposite Mickey Rooney in National Velvet in 1944. The film, which grossed over $4 million, catapulted Taylor to stardom and set in motion a career that was to span seven decades. Taylor worked steadily throughout the forties and early fifties without really establishing herself as a screen artist of any significant stature until 1957 which saw her receive an Academy award nomination for her role in Raintree County opposite her close friend Montgomery Clift. It was to be the first of four consecutive nominations for the Best Actress award, which she finally won for her performance in Butterfield 8.

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British Stars Protest at Government Cuts

Helen Mirren - one of the protesting stars

On 13th March 2011, a letter from a collection of the biggest names in British film, television and theatre, appeared in The Observer warning that government cuts to funding of the arts in Britain posed a major threat. The letter was written in response to the coalition government’s announcement in October 2010 that Arts Council England, the body responsible for allocating money to various arts venues, would have its budget cut by almost 30%. The announcement, which followed the abolition of the UK Film Council, prompted a number of local councils to cut their arts budgets accordingly.

The letter in full read:

Before the last election the government promised to usher in a “golden age” for the arts. The reality couldn’t be further from this. With the reductions announced in last year’s Spending Review, the withdrawal of huge amounts of local authority support, the abolition of the UK Film Council and the financial pressures faced by the Arts Councils and the BBC, we are currently facing the biggest threat to funding the arts and culture have experienced in decades.

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“Gossip is a fearful thing”: The Suicide of Ruan Lingyu

Ruan Lingyu

Largely unknown in the West, the actress Ruan Lingyu is still an iconic figure in China more that seventy years after her tragic death in 1935. Often referred to as China’s Greta Garbo, Ruan appeared in 29 films – all silent – in less than a decade, and found herself at the heart of both the nation’s affections and its’ news media’s predatory attentions.

In contrast to her relatively smooth ascendancy to film stardom, Ruan’s personal life was a succession of bad choices that not only brought her deep unhappiness but also flew in the face of China’s social conventions. Her father died when she was five years old, and her newly-widowed mother found employment with the Zhang family. Zhang Damin, the youngest son of the family, took a shine to Ruan and they lived together as man and wife from 1925 – although they never officially married because his parents disapproved on the basis of their differing social positions. However, in China at this time, the vagaries of marital law meant that a couple who lived together were often looked upon as married, as morality was considered to be as major a consideration as legal formality.

The couple’s relationship was strained and unhappy. Zhang Damin was a gambler who frittered away large amounts of their money. He was also physically abusive to Ruan. Separation was inevitable, and by late 1932 they were living apart. Ruan entered into a relationship with Tang Jishan, a wealthy Cantonese tea merchant who managed the Chahua Tea Company, whom she had met at various functions staged by the Lianhua Studio. In February 1933, Ruan instructed her lawyer, Wu Chengyu, to publish a statement of her independence from Zhang in numerous papers, an action which was widely accepted as a means of divorce at the time. When Zhang returned from a business trip in April 1933 to find Ruan living with Tang Jishan, the three of them entered into a formal legal agreement under which it was agreed that Ruan would pay Zhang a maximum of 100 yuan per month, that they would otherwise live independently of each other and that the terms of the agreement would not be made public.

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Jose A. Ferreyra

Jose A. Ferreyra

The Argentinean writer, director and producer Jose A. Ferreyra was born on 28th August 1889 in Buenos Aires. He was the son of an Afro-Argentinean woman descended from slaves, which earned him the nickname of ‘Negro Ferreyra’ (Black Ferreyra). Despite his modest ancestry, Ferreyra enjoyed a good education at the best schools. He began his career in films as a painter and set designer, but in 1915 quickly graduated to the rank of writer and director with Una noche de garufa, a film inspired by Eduardo Arolas’ tango. Ferreyra’s debut effort would in many ways lay down the template of many of his subsequent movies. His silent films were usually based in the suburbs and built around – or expanded upon – stories taken from popular tangos. While a tango provided the inspiration for Una noche de garufa, Ferreyra’s next film, El Tango de la Muerte, was based entirely on a tango. Ferreyra also wrote lyrics for tangos which he would then use as themes for his films, although he usually worked without a script, choosing instead to develop the movie’s plot during filming.

Together with Leopoldo Torres Rios, Ferreyra was one of only two Argentinean directors to successfully make the transition to sound, and in fact showed his willingness to embrace the new technology as early as 1922 when he attempted to screen Muchacha del Arrabal with synchronised sound. When he found himself unable to do so he enlisted the support of Robert Firpo’s tango orchestra to provide the music while his wife (and leading lady), actress Maria Turgenova sang the musical theme for each person on screen at the film’s premiere.

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The First Academy Awards Ceremony

The 1929 Academy Awards Ceremony

The first Academy Awards ceremony was staged in the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on 16th May 1929. The bestowing of ‘awards of merit for distinctive achievements’ was one part of the seven defined goals of the recently formed Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). The Academy was created in May 1927, ostensibly to ‘to improve the artistic quality of the film medium, provide a common forum for the various branches and crafts of the industry, foster cooperation in technical research and cultural progress, and pursue a variety of other stated objectives,’ although MGM chief Louis B. Mayer, one of the co-founders of the Academy and arguably the driving force behind its inception, had hoped it would serve as a means of averting the increasing unionisation of motion picture workers.

Early in the Academy’s history, a committee of seven members was appointed to create an awards presentation, although the formulation of an awards ceremony was not accepted until May 1928. Films released between 1st August 1927 and 31st July 1928 were considered eligible for the first Academy Awards. Judges representing the five branches of the Academy (actors, directors, producers, technicians and writers) were asked to nominate three names in twelve categories to a board which then selected and announced the winners.

MGM Art Director Cedric Gibbons was commissioned to design a statuette (the Academy Award of Merit) for the awards which was subsequently fashioned out of bronze by Los Angeles sculptor George Stanley, and the design Gibbons came up with – a knight holding a crusader’s sword and standing upon a reel of film made up of five spokes to signify the Academy’s five original branches – was almost identical to those awarded today.

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The Secret Life of Vertigo

Kim Novak as Madeleine Elster in Vertigo (1958)

Vertigo begins with a close-up of a woman’s face. The camera moves from lips to eyes. Although the face bears no expression, the eyes move nervously from side to side, hinting at a key underlying theme of Hitchcock’s film: the impossibility of understanding what emotions, motivations and desires are hidden behind an outwardly calm and inscrutable mask. Then a spiral pattern rotates from the depths of one eye, and the fact that this effect emerges from behind the mask suggests that the film’s title refers to more than just a straightforward fear of heights. The music that accompanies these opening credits is only heard once more during the course of the film – as Judy Barton assumes the ‘mask’ of Madeleine Elster at a beauty salon.

In the film’s opening scene we see Scottie Ferguson, a police detective with the San Francisco Police Department, and a uniformed colleague pursuing a figure across the city rooftops at dusk. Scottie mis-times his jump, an error of judgment that leaves him clinging perilously to some broken guttering high above an alleyway. His fellow policeman abandons his pursuit of their quarry in order to attempt to rescue Scottie, but over-balances and falls to his death. A subjective shot, showing us what Scottie sees, uses the celebrated zoom-in/track-out effect which is later repeated in the bell-tower to convey Scottie’s sudden attack of vertigo as he sees the policeman fall to the ground. This effect also communicates the internal conflicts Scottie feels between the desire to fall and the fear of falling. Clinging desperately to the bowing gutter with the weight of his body pulling on his arms and shoulders, Scottie experiences the possibility of death – the relief of pain and fear and tension – as a preferable option to life – the continuation of pain and fear and tension. To end the pain, all Scottie has to do is let go of the gutter. This fear/desire of falling, therefore, can be equated with a fear of/desire for death throughout the film.

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