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Q&A with Adrian Wooton
Presented by MIFF 37ºSouth Market & Accelerator Lab, Adrian Wootton – former director of the London Film Festival, British Film Institute and the UK’s National Film Theatre – returns exclusively to Melbourne for another series of his acclaimed Illustrated Film Talks, this year focusing on the Hollywood Golden Age and four legendary actresses, who appeared in some of the greatest films in celluloid history.
Lead image: Lauren Bacall
You have a wealth of knowledge when it comes to cinema; in your opinion, what is it about this period of cinema – the 1940s and '50s – that makes it so unique and fascinating?
This time was really the last great period of the "dream" factory, where the star system, the production line of movie-making, was so efficient, refined and full of talent – in front of and behind the camera – that the studios churned out lots and lots of movies. Many of these were classics that continue to stand the test of time, remaining popular and critically acclaimed with new generations of audiences, critics and filmmakers.
From Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca to Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz, there are a hundreds of legendary female performances from the Hollywood Golden Age – a few of which you’ll explore in one of your upcoming seminars. What are your five favourite female performances from the Golden Age and why?
There are so many great performances from so many wonderful female stars that it's almost impossible to single out a small selection. But from the group of wonderful women I am talking about in this series, I would say:
- Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight, her second Oscar-wining performance, for her vulnerability, nervousness and sensitivity in a complex role.
- Judy Garland in A Star in Born showed every facet of her amazing talent as a performer and star.
- Lauren Bacall was fantastic in movies like How to Marry a Millionaire but her presence with Bogart was magical from the first film, To Have and Have Not, where she simply lights up the screen.
- And Gloria Grahame is fabulous in The Big Heat but I particularly love her in In A Lonely Place as a warm-hearted, smart starlet trying to make a go of the edgy relationship with the explosive Bogart.
Your seminar titled ‘Lauren Bacall: Hollywood Icon of Cool’ explores Bacall's string of dazzling onscreen performances and the success of her long life and career. So what was it that made Bacall so undeniably ‘cool'?
Lauren Bacall was characterised as having "The Look", and undeniably this contributed to creating her very unique aura – along with the way she looked sidelong at Bogart, her natural ease in front of the camera, her deep and beautifully modulated voice, and her ability to deliver dialogue lines with a smart, snappy pizazz together.
Ingrid Bergman's successful career took a sharp turn after a controversial relationship with married man Roberto Rossellini, which resulted in Bergman’s European exile. Why do you think Bergman was treated so harshly by the film industry and how difficult do you think it was to be a woman during the Golden Age of Hollywood?
I believe all the great women stars of the Hollywood golden era had a very tough time, constrained and controlled by male studio bosses who definitely applied conservative, sexist attitudes towards their most famous female employees. In the end, Bergman was so talented (like Bette Davis, like Katherine Hepburn) she was able to rise above it all because of the sheer force of her talent, which outlasted and outshone all the nonsense she was unfortunately subjected to.
What made you decide on these four film femmes and, if given the opportunity to present on more prominent female figures, who could you choose?
These four stars are very different and yet share eras, in some cases share creative and personal experiences, and all have amazing movies to watch and incredible lives to discuss. I am a huge admirer of all of their work and have been for most of my life ,so it was easy to pick them!
In terms of other subjects, Ava Gardner, Joan Crawford, Rita Haworth, Vivien Leigh are another four names that would easily merit the same attention.