Max's Blog

How Pop Culture Leads and Misleads

Tag: Emily Dix

The Pilgrimage

Emily Dix and I love Judy Garland. During our second shift together, after learning that she enjoyed classic cinema, I eventually ventured “How do you feel about Meet Me in St. Louis?” We’ve indulged in our obsession ever since. Our coworkers became quickly frustrated with our multiple conversations on the backstage drama of The Wizard of Oz and joked that the first interview question put to potential-hires should be “Do you like Judy Garland?” We took to talking about her furtively, but on closing shifts when it was just the two of us we’d stack the CD player and then drown it out singing along. This also turned out to be the fastest way to empty the store at the end of the night.

So when she found out that the Cinematheque at the AGO was showing A Star is Born, Judy’s melancholy masterpiece, we had to go.

No matter what.

The last time I saw the film was right before I left for Ireland. I spotted a photocopied poster on Queen West with an illustration of Judy doing the famous ‘framing face’ gesture, next to a design for Battleship Potemkin.  Reg Hart, who was described to me, by a member of Team Macho no less, as “prophet without a flock”, was showing the two movies as part of a “GAY FILM MAKERS TRIBUTE FOR PRIDE”. (A Star is Born was made by George Cukor, a great director from the golden age who specialized in ‘women’s pictures’ and was surprisingly open about his homosexuality).

I invited my friend Jeremy and only as we had dinner at Mars diner on College before hand did I tell him that the film wasn’t being shown at a real movie theatre. Rather, Reg Hart shows them on a big screen in his converted living room, with movie posters and bookcases with Edward Gorey memorabilia crowding on each side. He let us bring wine, though: “Pretend you are in Europe” read the poster.

Jeremy is not a huge musical person, and I feel very protective of A Star is Born, so I was nervous. But he liked it, and wrote the whole experience off as a crazy, Toronto night, and we remained friends.

But I was really excited to see it on an actual big screen and with a real audience. Emily and I had planned to go for at least a month, plenty of time for me to come up with an outfit. I ended up wearing a bright red shirt (bold, 1950’s lipstick-red is a thematic colour throughout the entire film) and a twee bow-tie, my version of Judy’s boyish look.

Then, just as they did on the set of that production, things started to go wrong. They switched the schedule at work and Emily discovered that she was supposed to close the store that evening. We both wrote frantic letters to a co-worker (mine went along the lines of “Emily and I are sick, we know, and we’re trying to get help, but our psychologist thinks it would be detrimental to our well-being if…”) and she kindly agreed to switch shifts with Emily.

Then, as I was working on a piece about retro eyeglasses for WORN, basking in my personal air-conditioning, the power went off. This was an hour and a half before I was supposed to meet Emily downtown.

“Is the power off down there?” I asked frantically on the cell.

“No, I think it’s fine,” Emily said.

“Well, I’m coming. The show must go on!” And I slipped my recently-purchased DVD (“Nearly 4 hours of special features!”) into my bag as a back-up plan.

My neighbourhood was all out, but the buses and subway were still running, thank God. My bus driver muttered insults about the other drivers to himself (“Really nice driving there, fella!”) and I wondered if it was too much to ask for the TTC not to employ public servants who act like crazy people. Probably.

Oh, and I walked straight into an old Chinese woman at Spadina station. It was her fault. I was getting off the subway and she was getting on, and left practically no room for me to walk past her, and that to me is breaking the covenant of the TTC, so I just boldly walked forward and ended up pushing her. She let out a loud ‘guffaw!’ and I thought, ‘Well, maybe next time you’ll let the other passengers off first!’

Then I got karmic retribution when I was getting on the streetcar and the doors closed on me.

Also, just before I got off in Chinatown, the streetcar rear-ended the one in front of it. Power was out along Spadina and cops were directly traffic and yelling at old Chinese men and Kensington Market hipsters who crossed whenever they wanted.

Luckily, the power was fine further east and the AC inside the art gallery was nirvanic.

Emily was nine minutes late (“Five on my watch!”) but I forgave her because she was wearing a home-made t-shirt with a young Judy on it, emblazoned with rhinestones.  

“So many things could have prevented us from being here,” I said. “So many things… But we made it!”

And the movie did not disappoint, despite having seen it ten times. It was shot in cinemascope, so it really benefited from the big screen, and having never watched it with an audience before (the viewers were mostly young gay guys, older gay guys and middle-aged AGO members) I learned from their laughter that some scenes are actually quite darkly funny, and during dramatic moments there was perceptible tension in the room.

The movie, which shows the two sides of fame through the rise to stardom of Esther Blodgett (Judy) contrasted with the end of her husband Norman Maine’s (James Mason) career, is meta double tragedy. Despite the sadness of the plot, at least Judy is the winner in it, although biographical ironies abound. It has been suggested that the film is really a portrait of Garland split in two: Esther is the talented one everyone loves, and Norman is the alcoholic bent on self-destruction. “Sometimes I hate him,” cries Judy in one of the most gut-wrenching scenes captured on film. “And I hate me too, because I failed him!” And she points at herself through mascara-smudging tears, a possible clue to the audience about who the scene is really about.

But I called it a double tragedy because, interestingly as a movie about a sudden rise to fame, the film was meant as a grand comeback for Garland, the definitive Hollywood survivor. But it didn’t work. No matter how many suggestive lines they threw into the script (“All they want is more of your pictures,” a producer informs Judy) and how many well-wishing celebrities came to the dazzling opening, the movie had cost too much and the Warner brothers destroyed it through editing. The final straw came when Judy lost the Oscar to Grace Kelly, a pretty but useless actress not dissimilar to the phoney dumb starlets in the movie Norman Main dated before meeting Esther.

Despite making three more movies, A Star is Born signalled the end of Judy’s film career and, in many ways, the end of the big-budget musicals of Old Hollywood.

Perhaps it is all that pathos that led Emily and me to feel that we had to go, braving heat-spells and black-outs, to pay devotional tribute at our musical Mecca.  

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Sunday Reflections

“I don’t know if you should call it that. It sounds like church.”—my Dad

This is a good, quiet, rainy morning to take a moment’s pause. It’s been almost a week, but it feels much longer. To keep you loyal readers coming back, I’ve been trying to post something every day. It can get pretty exhausting, especially when you aim to post an article of a higher calibre than the average blog-whining: something with a snappy lead and last sentence, a focused argument and witty observational details. Plus, despite my Grammar Nazis rant, I want to keep errors to a minimum (would like to seem professional, don’t cha know).

I am not a new-comer to the blogosphere. I had my first livejournal account the summer after first year. All I can remember writing about was the election campaign I volunteered with and the treatment of John Kerry in the media. Then I had another one a few years later, after my epic break-up, which unfortunately featured the odd histrionic take-down of my ex-boyfriend. I have learned a lot since then. I had a blogspot two years ago, on which I wrote about Obama, my adventures at UofT and some cultural-criticism I’m still proud of. I moved to Ireland and started ‘Canadian Boy in Dublin’ and wrote about my landlord, gay bars, homesickness and other places I travelled. I wanted this wordpress to last longer, which is why the html is my name, something that still scares me. But if you’re going to put ideas out there you should have the courage of your convictions and take responsibility for them.

Here’s the other thing about wordpress that only the initiated would know: they have this neat little thing called ‘blog stats’ which allows you to see how many times your site was viewed, where the viewer was referred from and what links they clicked on your page. So dangerous. Having never had this option before, I have become a poll-obsessed. How can you not get obsessed with a line-graph, especially when it resembles a spiky Lawren Harris iceberg, as it did after I received 60 visits on Tuesday. I was all excited, jumping around, thinking that if I could average about that each day I was on my way to Arianna-status. Then Wednesday I had 40 visits. By Thursday, it was down to 32.

“I’ve lost them all!” I wailed to my parents, who have already become accustomed to me entering a room and reporting a two-digit number with no explanation.

It was beautiful on Friday and I decided to walk to work. I thought the walk may give me an idea of how to shake things up, and it did. Halfway there the interviews I had been reading on the WORN blog along with one of a friend in the Toronto Star mixed with my desire to involve more people in my blog and I said to myself, ‘I could do interviews! It’s not difficult, especially when you know cool people!’ Months ago, reflecting on how blogs have a tendency to be self-centred and navel-gazing, I had the idea of dedicating one to ‘Other People’ (other than myself) and that’s where the title came from. The Emily post (haha, Emily Post) replaced the former zenith of 60 views and by the end of yesterday had become my most-visited page.

Although I’m going to keep the number to myself, as I don’t want to brag.

Other People: Emily Dix

As fascinating as I am, I’ve decided to devote one post a week to one of my fabulous, interesting friends. Emily Dix is an actress, singer, director and model, although she is currently grinding beans at a cafe, which is where we met. We have been bosom buddies since we discovered a mutual love of Judy Garland. She will soon be producing a stage show ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ for the Victoria College Drama Society at the University of Toronto (click here for the facebook group). The original film is one of the funniest, most underrated movies of all time. She has a wise old soul under her cherubic face.

MM: What is the most exciting thing you’re doing right now?

ED: Honestly, I think the most exciting thing I’m doing at the moment is looking for an apartment with my boyfriend. We’re moving in together the beginning of August and I’m pretty psyched. It’ll be nice to get a pretty new place we can decorate together, somewhere that actually feels like home. That and the couple little film projects Matt and I are working on together. We both need to build up our demo reels (I’m an actor, he’s a writer/director) and so that’s our goal for the summer.

MM: What would you like to be doing in 10 years?

ED: Oh wow, so many things. Well, at heart I’m a real housewife: I hope I’m married, have a kid or two, and a nice home. That’s the number one goal. As far as a career, I’ve always wanted to be a high school English and drama teacher. I love teaching students and those are the subjects I’m most passionate about. I also have this little dream of one day opening up my own arts studio, somewhere that encourages kids to get involved in dance, drama, singing, anything artistic really. I’d like to manage that, and do some of the teaching as well. Annnnd…I guess I’d like to still be acting too, hopefully in something a little better known by then.

MM: Describe your bedroom.

ED: Well first off, it’s a mess. The thing is, at the moment my bedroom is my entire apartment because I live in a bachelor. So there’s clothes, books, dishes, papers, movies, JUNK strewn everywhere. To add to that, Matt pretty much lives with me already as he’s here about 5 or 6 days a week. So add to that mess his comics, movies, clothes, coffee cups- we call it “the abyss”. But, when we move, it will be a bit better. Underneath the mess you can see vintage movie posters, a few odd dolls and stuffed toys (I’m sentimental AND a pack-rat, dangerous combination), a lot of books and movies in every genre you can imagine, and basically just a lot of colour.

MM: Where is the next place you’d like to travel?

ED: I haven’t really been much of anywhere, so I’d like to go anywhere really. Matt and I have talked about going to New York. I went there once but it was a school trip with a lot of limits on what we could see and do. I’d love to go back to the museums and of course see a Broadway show. I have also always wanted to go to Tokyo: bright lights give me such a rush, and I think the only thing better than Times Square would be a main strip in Tokyo. Plus I love the whole culture, and tried to (mostly unsuccessfully, unfortunately) learn the language a few years back. I’d like to try again. Immersion would help.

MM: What book should everybody read as soon as possible?

ED: Dry by Augusten Burroughs –The only book to make me laugh AND CRY. I am not a girlie girl, it takes a lot. It’s this darkly funny and touching “memoir” (I use the term loosely as I feel it may be another A Million Little Pieces type thing, but I don’t think the accuracy of the stories should have any weight on how the reader is affected…anyway…) written by a gay alcoholic advertising genius. Don’t let that scare you off. Even if you know nothing about being gay, or an alcoholic, or advertising, I PROMISE you, you will find something relatable in this book. It’s great. Go read it now.

MM: You’re into film and theatre: what are your most and least favourite things about each?

ED: Well, favourite thing about theatre is the thrill of seeing a character come to life, whether I’m the actor, or the writer, or director. Seeing something you had some part in creating really come to life on stage is just…awesome. When I’m onstage I can become a completely different person, and it’s ok! I live for the audience’s reaction (laughter is especially thrilling, but I’ll take tears too, depending on the show of course, heh). And if I’m involved in the behind the scenes, it’s the same kind of thing, and I’m proud of the actor when they do a good job, it’s the same feeling I get when I’m teaching. Film is similar too, except without the audience reaction. So I guess what I like about it is that I can be really creative with what exactly is shown, and I love to play around with techniques and an interesting score. Now, as far as least favourite, for both, without a doubt, would be some of the people associated with it. There are a lot of pretentious film and theatre people out there, and they get on my nerves like you wouldn’t believe. I can’t stand snobs. And I don’t like how competitive some people get with it too, not the healthy fun competition, but the mean back-stabby kind. There’s no need for it.

MM: Tell us about the absolute worst day you ever had at a job.

ED: There are way too many stories for this one. Buuut I’ll stick with a recent one. It’s the customers, you know? I’ve worked retail for 5 years and you meet a lot of interesting (see, *awful*) people, but I think the lowest of the low was a woman I had the other day who complained about the deaf/mute woman in line in front of her. Now, I’ve had customers scream at me, threaten me, question how I was raised, threaten to have me fired, call me a b*tch and far worse, but THIS woman struck a chord in just how INSENSITIVE she was. My first customer of the day was this very sweet woman who was deaf and mute, and apparently unable to read lips. To communicate we had to write back and forth to each other. Now, this did mean it took a little longer than usual, but the whole conversation took under 2 minutes, less than it would have taken had I been dealing with a complicated order. The woman in line behind her sighed and rolled her eyes the entire time, muttering things like, “for god sakes” and “this is ridiculous”. She repeatedly cut in with dumb questions like, “Where’s your coffee? It’s not on the menu” (it’s right at the top, actually). I kept telling her I’d “be with you in a minute ma’am, I’m with another customer” but she wouldn’t shut up!

When my co-worker finished whatever she was working on and came over to say, “Can I help you” to which the snob’s response was “any time today!” She then spent several minutes complaining about a dog outside, wasting FAR more time than the other woman had. And then she stormed out when she found we kept the coffee in canisters LIKE EVERY OTHER SHOP IN THE CITY. I wanted to strangle her.

MM: If it was socially acceptable which five movie characters would you dress like?

ED: My mind is immediately searching through all the stunning dresses I’ve seen in MGM musicals over the years. Well, I guess first off I’d have to say Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. Not the most glamourous dress I know, but since I was a kid I’ve loved (ie. worshiped) that film, and so the dress is sort of a staple fashion piece for me. Sad Fact: I actually already own 2 versions of this dress; the true-to-film version my mother made me when I was 12 (it still fits! early growth-spurt) and the “sexy” Halloween version (imagine it as a mini skirt and low bust-line). I sometimes wear it while watching the film- your guess which version ;-P

Then there’s the cute little number Jane Powell wore in Royal Wedding for one of her big dance numbers with Fred Astaire, the one to “How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Loved You”- an early 50’s beatnik getup, yellow and black, tight and fabulous. It’s so stylized, how could I not love it? And I’ve always loved vintage fashion.

Judy Garland’s ensemble during the “Man That Got Away” scene in A Star Is Born is adorable. It’s neat, clean lines  show off every curve, and I feel like it’s something that could still be worn today without standing out TOO much. Plus I just love that scene and would think of it every time I wore it.

For the sake of having something a little more modern, I’ll look to the movie Grease, and in particular, the red hot number Rizzo wore for the big school dance. I know this is set in the 50’s, but there’s still something very early 80’s about all the stuff in it, in particular Rizzo’s outfits and Sandy’s final skankified number. I think it’s sexy and cute at the same time, and love the bit of retro flare.

And last but not least…geez, I can think of dozens upon dozens of stunning gowns, but I guess I’ll stick with the slightly more casual ones I’ve been citing…ooh! No, okay, its not really a casual outfit, but it is a nightgown! in Bringing Up Baby the brilliant flick starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. There is a scene where Susan (Hepburn) is trying to convince David (Grant) to come over and deal with a leopard she has acquired from her brother Mark. She’s sitting there in this RIDICULOUS frilly, poofy, CRAZY nightgown and I love it. No one should ever be that dressed up while lounging in their own home, but it is so fitting of the overly glamourous 40’s that I really wish I had it.