[1941] The Little Foxes

21355-the-little-foxes-0-230-0-345-cropIn formal probability theory, mathematicians and armchair enthusiasts sometimes describe a technique called “coupling.”

This technique allows for seemingly random variables, x and y, to interact with one another in otherwise random way. Suppose walks that way and this – how can we measure how likely it is that they meet? Or that they never will? Probablists introduce a measure of their own creation to force an interaction, then measure success or failure. This technique allows for the creation of path dependence and bias determination that otherwise could not have been measured.

This is a phenomenal approach to a problem of no consequence. Sure, we care what should happen, but we really only measure what does happen and try to predict, with some accuracy what could happen, given xy, and the medium. Sometimes, with enough certainty, our best guess is correct, and we begin to understand the difference between a graphite prediction and a graphic realization. The Little Foxes, whose production brought Bette Davis and William Wyler together again in 1941, is a film-proximate take on coupling.

The actress and the director make magic; theorists can couple together as much evidence as they want, but there is no measurement for spark and collaborative creativity that can outperform expected results. The Little Foxes proved this in the early 1940s. By way of a proud story, the film pairs together an actress at the height of her career with a director at the height of his. The story had been scene-tested on stage and was destined for imprint on film, with interpretive authority to be canonized as one of the five best of the year. Given this footstool of facts, mathematics aside, a critic from a reel away could have predicted this film’s success from the onset.

And it was almost derailed. Continue reading

[1950] All About Eve

I mean, but really All About Marilyn.

In her on-screen debut, Marilyn Monroe stole one scene for about fifteen seconds in a minor speaking role, surrounded by the film’s starring cast, and then commanded Hollywood’s attention for the next dozen years. Her medium, All About Eve, 1950’s Best Picture winner, commands a certain respect amongst film élite as a tour de force (nominated for 14 awards – including an as-of-yet unmatched 4 female acting awards). Bette Davis is superb here; George Sanders is sublime; Anne Baxter is adequate – but that may be part of her charm; Marilyn Monroe is radiant. Film and politics have enshrined Ms. Monroe as legendary: no other actor has since graced the screen with such a furious radiance. Marilyn’s legacy simply multiplies with each passing year.

All About Eve, written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, is not all about Eve Harrington, but rather about her meteoric rise to fame and her inevitable downfall. It’s about the prescience of the next big thing and about the lives and histories and themes of the people an ambitious actor must crush to achieve. It’s about the different paths different actors (people, really) can take to accomplish a goal. It’s about not really understanding the method, but the ready-fire-aim approach. And it’s about coming to grips with one’s individual place within a group. Really, though Monroe’s Miss Casswell is immune to these issues. No amount of ambition will hold someone like her back. Continue reading