The Man from Dream City – and Bristol
Film festivals and live cinema are all the rage, growing new audiences for old movies and posing new challenges for old methodologies. While Cary Grant is obviously not a woman, I hope you’ll bear with me as I contemplate the purpose of the festival and its relevance to WFTHN. The festival directors, Charlotte Crofts and Anna Farthing, are creative academics who share a passion for Bristol’s film heritage and vibrant film culture. The festival’s audience is primarily female, matching the gender trend identified in the Live Cinema in the UK Report 2016. And, onscreen, we’ll have the chance to see some of Grant’s glorious co-stars, Katharine Hepburn, Jean Arthur, Ingrid Bergman and Deborah Kerr.
Grant is an interesting figure to study in relation to female stardom. According to Pauline Kael in ‘The Man from Dream City’, Grant was ‘the most publicly seduced male theworld has known’. Over and over again, the sassiest female stars pursued Grant, from Mae West in She Done Him Wrong (1932) to Audrey Hepburn in Charade (1963). It becomes something of a running joke in his movies: on first seeing him, a woman cannot quite believe her eyes. She blinks, then gazes, wide-eyed. Grant’s presence has a physical and psychological impact, knocking the heroine off course and bringing about change. In Only Angels Have Wings (1939), Bonnie Lee (Jean Arthurs) deliberately misses her boat to New York, so she can get to know Geoff Carter (Grant) much better. In Notorious (1946), Grant is not even the protagonist, but a catalyst: the mysterious Devlin draws Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman) into a dangerous spy mission, almost against her will.
Female attraction to male stars obviously underpinned the studio system, but it’s relatively unusual for it to be represented onscreen in this way. At the festival, I’ll be exploring the chemistry between Grant and some of his leading ladies by talking about the onscreen kiss. Grant and Bergman’s extended, close-up kissing in Notorious sizzles with sexual tension, in a way that is typical of Grant’s films with Alfred Hitchcock. In contrast, Grant and Katharine Hepburn share nothing more than fleeting embraces, viewed at a distance – despite working together four times. Genre is part of the equation here, of course. In Bringing Up Baby (1938) and Holiday (1938), the emphasis is on having fun, with pratfalls, chases and acrobatics replacing sex.
Bringing Up Baby holds special significance for this year’s festival. Mark Glancy will be talking about his archival research on the film’s production and its prevailing spirit of improvisation. While the film sealed the Independent Theater Owners’ opinion of Hepburn as ‘box-office poison’, Grant’s and Hawks’ careers continued to ascend, apparently unscathed. Bringing Up Baby is now recognised as a screwball classic; it’s also the festival’s Gala Screening. The event falls into Atkinson and Kennedy’s category of enhanced live cinema. It takes place in an unusual location and accompanied by ‘red carpet’ glamour, champagne, canapes and live entertainment. The Bristol Museum and Art Gallery’s dinosaur skeletons will enhance the atmosphere and creates a unique viewing experience.
The Festival seeks to celebrate Grant’s Bristol roots and his inspiring journey from a difficult childhood to icon of Hollywood glamour. Cary Grant didn’t exist until 1932, when Archibald Leach (28) – working class boy from Bristol, acrobat, vaudevillian and light operetta actor – finally changed his name for Paramount Studios. There is a sneak preview of extracts from Mark Kidel’s documentary Becoming Cary Grant. The organisers are also working with the Bristol Harbour Festival to build cross-over audiences, by exploring Grant’s relationship to the golden age of Transatlantic travel, including a screening of An Affair to Remember (1957).
Given that academics are often directly involved – as contributors, advisers, organisers and producers – I’m curious about the relationship of such festivals to research culture. In what sense (if any) can we consider festivals a form of dissemination? How do we measure the impact of festivals effectively? Are festivals sustainable, or a fad? I’m sure others have been answering these questions, but I’m still finding my way.
Kathrina Glitre is Senior Lecturer in Film Studies at UWE, Bristol. She has written about Myrna Loy, Katharine Hepburn and Doris Day (amongst others) in Hollywood Romantic Comedy: States of the Union, 1934-65, and about Nancy Meyers and ‘popular feminism’. Her current research focuses on Cary Grant, screen acting and star vehicles.