Monday, December 6, 2010

Mark Griffin interviewed on the Steve Katsos show

Author Mark Griffin talks about his new book A Hundred or More Hidden Things: The Life and Films of Vincente Minnelli on the Steve Katsos show.

Citizen Scholar: Michael E. Grost on the Minnelli Factor

December 5, 2010

Citizen Scholar: Michael E. Grost on the Minnelli Factor

by Mark Griffin

"I just spent the morning writing an article on a film from 1912 called From The Submerged," reports Michael E. Grost, a film historian and self-described "citizen scholar," who is the creator of a one-of-a-kind website ( that exhaustively explores the visual and thematic links in the films of such master directors as Fritz Lang and Raoul Walsh. Grost also regularly champions the achievements of lesser known filmmakers that he feels are deserving of greater recognition like Gun Crazy director Joseph H. Lewis ("I'm up to ninety-six of his one hundred and six known films...")

Grost's greatest challenge (so far) involves examining the multi-layered levels of meaning in the work of the incomparable Vincente Minnelli. According to Grost, the arched alcoves, hexagonal wallpaper patterns and elliptical mirrors that turn up in Minnelli's movies are as meaningful as the vanishing heroes and gender outlaws that populate such classics as Cabin In The Sky, Meet Me In St. Louis, Tea and Sympathy, Designing Woman and Gigi.

Mark Griffin, the author of A Hundred or More Hidden Things: The Life and Films of Vincente Minnelli, recently caught up with Grost, who took a break from his ongoing investigation to discuss what he describes as "the seemingly endless use of creativity in Minnelli's moves."

MG: Why don't we start with the most challenging question first...What is your favorite Vincente Minnelli production and why?

MEG: It's easy to pick a favorite. It's Some Came Running (1958). I'm not sure that I can say why other than it's just so extremely well made at all levels. It works wonderfully as a story and then you have Minnelli's incredible visual style -- it has that great finale with the camera moving through the centennial celebration in Parkman [the fictional Midwestern town where the story takes place]. It's one of Minnelli's films about writers and as a writer myself, I tend to identify with such characters, so maybe it speaks to me personally a little bit. It's just one of his films that's so richly done at a dramatic level...It also seems to be a climax of his melodramas. It's the best of the melodramas and the richest and of course, it's got a very creative use of color throughout.

MG: On your website, you explore how Minnelli uses red and blue as a recurring motif in Some Came Running.

Yes. The early Minnelli films are rather wild in terms of color design. It's very hard to summarize color in Yolanda and the Thief (1945) or Meet Me In St. Louis (1944). You'll have scenes that are multi-colored and certainly very beautiful but they don't seem to be designed according to any standard logic but the later Minnelli films tend to use complimentary colors -- It'll be the red-orange and blue that you see in a lot of his films...Home from the Hill (1960) has fifteen scenes in it which are based on red-green color contrasts. Some Came Running is more of the red-orange versus blue design typically. Especially with the finale at the centennial, there's this kind of conscious color design throughout...the lights of the carousel, for example, are all red-orange contrasted with blue. Minnelli certainly exhibited an extraordinary use of color throughout his work and a seemingly endless use of creativity in terms of the visuals of his films. The results are always very interesting to watch.

MG: In reference to Meet Me In St. Louis, you've suggested that beneath the surface of this glossy MGM musical, there are some heavier themes being explored -- like sexism and social anxiety. How conscious do you think Minnelli was of layering this seemingly lighthearted movie with loads of subtext?

MEG: Minnelli's films show a very consistent interest in sexism and feminism. In this country, we tend to think of sexism as something that emerged in the 1970's with the women's liberation movement and that's very true. But look at something like The Sandpiper, which came out in 1965 - it's very consciously about feminism. In fact, it seems to be the main subject of the movie. It's a women's lib drama from the period before women's lib really erupted...My impression is that Minnelli was conscious of feminism and you can certainly look at Meet Me In St. Louis as a feminist film. There's an awful lot of material in Meet Me In St. Louis about the societal restrictions on women's lives. These young women in the family -- they're not even allowed to make a phone call unless the father grants his permission. They can't control who they meet. They're not allowed to talk to men until another man intervenes and introduces them. I mean, Judy Garland can't even go over and say "Hello..." to the boy-next-door in this society. She's like in purdah or something. From the way all of this is presented, it's hard to imagine that this wasn't some sort of conscious decision and concern on Minnelli's part...I think, too, feminism is often invisible to people. Take the plays by Aeschylus -- like the Oresteia -- this seems to me to be a very feminist work. Though I never see any discussions of this among critics. It's like people can look right at something and not see the feminism in things. I, for one, don't understand why The Sandpiper is so ridiculed among Minnelli's films -- people seem to constantly put it down and make jokes about it. They just don't like it but I always thought it was a very good movie. I loved it when I first saw it decades ago and I saw it several times when I was writing about Minnelli for my website. But I've found that there's something about any sort of explicit feminist film that bothers people. When the feminist message is buried just a bit below the surface -- as it is in Meet Me In St. Louis -- it can suddenly become invisible.

MG: In writing about Cabin In The Sky (1943), you touch upon how Minnelli presented African-Americans in that film. You disagree with some of the audio commentary by academic Todd Boyd on the DVD version of Cabin. Some observers have made the case that a few of the characterizations in Cabin are racially insensitive stereotypes while others argue that Minnelli was something of a pioneer in terms of how he presented black people in his films. What do you think?

I think Cabin in the Sky is overwhelmingly positive and innovative in its positive portrayals of African-Americans. There are a few places where one could be legitimately concerned, though. The brief cameo by Willie Best as one of the demons in the film is stereotyped. There's no other way to put it. It's not good but it's mercifully very brief. Also, the pre-reformed hero of the film being portrayed as lazy and shiftless -- that's perhaps a bit uncomfortably close to some of the ugly stereotypes of lazy black people. But in the second half of the film, the hero very much reforms and becomes a hard worker and later on, you see him all done up in white tie and tails and he's a big success in life and so on. Mainly it's an extremely positive portrayal. There are some extraordinary portraits on display...the minister...Ethel Waters as the heroine and the incredible jazz musicians in the nightclub sequence...The film is like an inventory of many of the great black musical entertainers of all time. It's mainly just a remarkable, highly positive film despite some occasional problems that we have to acknowledge but at the same time we need to try to balance them with what is good about the film as a whole.

I'm curious to hear your thoughts on Lena Horne's character in Cabin. In Georgia Brown, we're being presented with a seductive, sexually available African-American woman in an all-black musical released in 1943. All things considered, was this kind of character a step forward or another strike against Hollywood?

I think in general, in the late 20's and 30's, most depictions of black people in Hollywood movies were really horrible. This was the Stepin Fetchit era. An important exception was John M. Stahl's original version of Imitation of Life (1934) which was considered a landmark film in the black press. It was always hailed as a model film in that era. You can see a few others -- like the black news-boy who gets killed in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) as another positive portrayal. And the extraordinary finale of Preston Sturges's Sullivan's Travels (1941), where the white protagonists go to the black church. Every now and then there was a pro-civil rights message slipped in about the equality of the races. So there were a few positive examples but otherwise, most of the portrayals were stereotyped and embarrassing and a disgrace. Then, in the early 1940's, black civil rights leaders pushed for a change. I think they actually went to Washington and asked the federal government to try and motivate Hollywood to include more positive black portrayals in films because blacks were contributing so much to the war effort - both as soldiers and as war workers and they felt that this ought to be recognized. In the early 40's, you had Stormy Weather, Dive Bomber and Cabin in the Sky -- suddenly Hollywood was making this series of films that were attempting to portray black people more positively. My impression was that this was a communal effort sponsored by civil rights leaders and the federal government. There were white liberals like [crime writer] Rex Stout, who lead a committee of white authors to try and promote more positive portrayals of black people in entertainment by white people.

I don't have any inner knowledge of the production history of Cabin in the Sky but I really don't think that the people who made it just woke up one morning and said, 'Okay, let's make a pro-black musical today...' I think this reflected a conscious effort by lots of different political, creative and film industry groups to improve the image of black people in 1940's Hollywood...For some reason, Minnelli was very much associated with black entertainers in his early films. Not just Cabin in the Sky but you also have these really interesting scenes with Lena Horne and the Berry Brothers in Panama Hattie (1942). You have the Hazel Scott numbers in I Dood It (1943), which are really the best part of what is otherwise probably Minnelli's worst movie. I understand that he directed a lot of black performers on Broadway, too...There are other ways in which he was sort of a pioneer -- in The Clock (1945), you'll see these very dignified, non-stereotyped servicemen in that wartime film who are black. In the scenes in Grand Central Station, not only are there very dignified and patriotic portraits of white servicemen but you see black servicemen, too. In The Sandpiper, there's a black artist who is on equal terms with the white artists in the film. There are all sorts of very dignified, pioneering looks at black people in Minnelli's films. It's a whole dimension that's important in his work that we shouldn't forget. Along with the feminist dimension and the pro-gay dimension, there also is the pro-black dimension. Minnelli was an aesthete but he was also clearly interested in liberal social values. I mean, Lust for Life (1956) has one of the few looks at child labor since the 1910's, when you had films like The Cry of the Children (1912), which deals very profoundly with the tragedy of child labor. And then it just goes away as a subject - even though it hadn't disappeared in real life - until Minnelli shows it in the tragedy in Lust for Life. The same thing is true about all of the science in Minnelli. As a director, he's consistently interested in technology -- especially sound communication. There are all of these recording devices in his films. Things like the radio remote control at the end of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1962). There's just a surprising amount of material about technology in Minnelli's films. After all, he was a leading figure in one of the world's most high tech industries. This sort of stuff tends to be invisible to today's commentators on Minnelli and I'm not sure why. It needs to be brought out and people need to start seeing more.

MG: In writing about Minnelli's directorial approach, you frequently make reference to this concept of "kinetic art." In relation to Vincente's films, how would you best describe what that is?

MEG: Kinetic Art is an art world term for art objects that you might well see somewhere like the Museum of Modern Art or the Tate Gallery in London or the Guggenheim Museum -- anyplace that concentrates on modern art. Kinetic art basically refers to machines that are created by artists in a lab that have moving parts that are designed to be looked at for their visual beauty and delightfulness. One machine might feature whistles and moving wheels or revolving pin wheels and spirals...or gears that interlock...pistons that move up and down...things like that. They were especially big in the 1960's in art museums and there were a number of artists who specialized in them. They were considered rather avant-garde. My impression is that such things actually date back to the 1920's.

The kinetic art movement never became the center of the art world but it did become quite a craze and if you look at the finale of Mickey One, which is a film by Arthur Penn made in '65 - there's a whole fifteen minute sequence in that film which visits a large scale kinetic art installation -- you know, a large machine created by an artist full of fireworks and revolving wheels and stuff that is as big as a house. I don't know if Minnelli specifically had an interest in kinetic art but his films are just filled to the peak with machines that move around and that are certainly like kinetic art. For example, in Lovely To Look At (1952), in the fashion show sequence, there are all of these pyramids that are filled with light inside and that glow with light and they're being moved all around the stage. In Meet Me In St. Louis (1944), Judy Garland and Tom Drake put out the lights with this complicated gadget that's on a long pole and it involves having to reach up and pull gears and levers and it helps them put out the gas lights in the chandeliers...At the start of An American in Paris (1951), Gene Kelly has all sorts of ingenious objects in his room like beds that fold up and tables that emerge from the ceiling and things that come out of his closet. All sorts of things like this appear all through Minnelli's films. Oftentimes these moving objects have light inside, too. There's a similar thing in the art world called art light, which involves moving light and Minnelli often combines the two. Like in An American in Paris - during the "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise" number, when [Georges Guetary] is moving up and down the stairs, every time he lands on another step, a light flashes on and he makes elaborate moving patterns with the lights. There are hundreds of examples. We could spend our entire conversation going through all of the many examples you can find throughout Minnelli's films.

When you were first describing the concept of kinetic art, it struck me that one of the most obvious examples is when Fred Astaire is in the arcade at the beginning of The Band Wagon (1953) and he sets off that wild contraption that has all of the bells and whistles -- not to mention American flags that shoot out on cue.

Yes. Definitely. That's sort of like the pop culture equivalent of it. Machines like that probably helped inspire kinetic art installations in art museums...In Minnelli's autobiography [I Remember It Well], he talks about sending the first version of that machine back to the designers because it wasn't over-the-top enough for him. He wanted it to go absolutely berserk and do everything possible, including waving flags, turning lights on and off and moving around...and it's a totally spectacular example.

MG: On your website, you've created this extraordinary inventory - or cataloguing - of recurring imagery and symbolism in Minnelli's work. When you start sifting through the red gladiolas and the portable phonographs or the kind of nested rectangles that appear on Nanette Fabray's skirt in The Band Wagon, what - if anything - do you think Minnelli is actually "saying" with all of this? Since Vincente Minnelli worked at a factory like MGM, is it possible that some of these recurring images are just intriguing coincidences?

I don't think these things are accidental because you begin to see patterns through film after film -- like those nested rectangles - these things keep showing up throughout Minnelli's career. You see them on Nanette Fabray's skirt but you also see them in the benches in Kirk Douglas's office in The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)...You see them in the main title sequence of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970) -- where all of the multi-colored rectangles nest down to infinity. They're all over. A lot of these films are also filled with geometric patterns and you find this not only in Minnelli but in movies directed by Fritz Lang and Raoul Walsh and many others. People today talk about visual style and everyone says that Minnelli is a great visual stylist. But then they don't try to specify what is actually appearing on the screen that makes up this very distinctive visual style and there are many, many things. My website does not touch bottom in terms of trying to analyze what we mean when we say that Minnelli is this great visual stylist. At least it is picking up on some dimensions and one of these is the use of all of these unusual geometric patterns. Minnelli's films are just full of geometric patterns and they repeat and modify themselves in film after film...For some reason, female controlled spaces in Minnelli often have checkerboard floors in them and men often trip and fall down in these spaces. An archetypal example is the checkerboard floor inside the trailer in The Long, Long Trailer (1954) that is owned by Lucille Ball. Her husband, Desi Arnaz, falls flat on his face when he first sees it.

Another great example is in Father of the Bride (1950), during Spencer Tracy's nightmare - the church floor suddenly turns to quicksand.

Yes! In the church - he starts sinking into the floor. It's the most extraordinary surreal imagery. Again that's a female-controlled space -- all of these women are running the wedding and he's just caught up in all of it. I have no idea why there's such a consistent pattern for some of these things in Minnelli. If you ask me, 'Is there something inherently female about checkerboard floors?' --I would have to say that I have no idea but they turn up over and over in Minnelli in the same way that the male-controlled spaces in Minnelli often have diamond lozenge patterns on the walls. Like Richard Widmark's curtains in his psychiatric office in The Cobweb (1955) or Kirk Douglas's space in The Bad and the Beautiful. There are many other examples. These patterns recur in Minnelli in film after film. And these things are always richly varied. It isn't like Minnelli said, 'Okay, bring out the diamond lozenge curtains, boys...' It's never just the same thing over and over again. It's always accomplished with very interesting variations and it's always very creative. But these patterns do constantly run through Minnelli. People need to start being more conscious of these things if they're going to be genuinely interested in visual style and not just paying lip service by saying something like, 'Oh, his visual style is very interesting...' Well, what makes it so interesting? Once you start talking about it in concrete terms, you start recognizing all of the geometry that plays an important role in terms of what's happening on screen.

MG: On your website, you make mention of Pedro Almodovar, Danny Boyle and Gus Van Sant. Do you think Minnelli has had an influence on any contemporary filmmakers?

I mentioned all of those directors because they often build their films around blue and red-orange color contrasts as Minnelli does. If you look at something like the Van Sant remake of Psycho (1998), you'll find that it's just endlessly fascinating on several levels but I guess I'm one of the five people who actually liked his remake of Psycho...In general, I don't think contemporary filmmakers are as visually skillful as some of the classic era directors. In terms of visual style, I'm very impressed with the Vietnamese filmmaker Hung Tran Anh. A film like The Scent of Green Papaya (1993) seems vaguely Minnellian in some ways. With Almodovar, I love the rich use of color in his 80's films like Law of Desire and Matador and Dark Habits. I think that may have been the peak of Almodovar's stylistic period. Though The Flower of My Secret (1995), which came later, has very vivid colors in it, too. You'll see many of these same color schemes in Minnelli -- it's a striking contrast of blue and orange-red with touches of green here and there.

Could you please suggest an under appreciated Minnelli movie that you think people should seek out?

I know that everyone ritually dislikes Undercurrent (1946) - the way that they don't like The Sandpiper - but I've always thought that it was a fascinating film. I wish Minnelli had done more mysteries. There's the mystery of identity involving the resistance leader in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and there are a number of little mini-mysteries in some of the other films. For example, Dean Martin has to figure out what's going on with this mystery woman throughout Bells Are Ringing (1960)...Most Minnelli films are so richly brocaded. Every time I see one from beginning to end, the next thing I know -- I'm spending the next 48 hours writing about all of the new things I learned about these films for my website. And you always see so many new things when you watch a Minnelli movie.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Peter Filichia's Diary: The Movie That Should Have Been Made

Theatremania's Peter Filichia recently read Mark Griffin's new biography on Vincente Minnelli and wonders about the movie that should have been made...

Had a good time reading Mark Griffin’s very well-written and researched A Hundred or More Hidden Things: The Life and Films of Vincente Minnelli. How nice to know more about such films as Cabin in the Sky, Meet Me in St. Louis, The Clock, Ziegfeld Follies, An American in Paris, The Band Wagon, Brigadoon, Kismet, Tea and Sympathy, Gigi, The Reluctant Debutante, Bells Are Ringing and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. None of us, I suspect, can resist any book that includes the line “I witnessed a nasty scene that Dolores Gray made.”

But the most intriguing paragraph for me was the one that started Chapter Five. “In January, 1937,” it began, “Minnelli drove through the Paramount gates for the first time. Never one to start small, he proposed that his first production should be an innovative musical mystery entitled Times Square. Minnelli envisioned the film as an all-star extravaganza that would incorporate scenes from actual Broadway shows currently on the boards.”

Read the full article at this link.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Magill Book Reviews: Mark Griffin's Vincente Minnelli biograpy

Magill Book Reviews:
A Hundred or More Hidden Things: The Life and Films of Vincente Minnelli, by Mark Griffin

"[Griffin] excels at showing how the director reveals his sensibility in his films…Anecdotes make the biography consistently fascinating.” ~ Magill Book Reviews

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Billy Stritch interview in Lewiston Sun Journal

Check out Mark Griffin's interview with Liza Minnelli collaborator Billy Stritch in today's Lewiston Sun Journal at this link.

Griffin is the author of the new biography "A Hundred or More Hidden Things: The Life and Films of Vincente Minnelli."

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mark Griffin Interviews Billy Stritch

Keep your eye on the Lewiston Sun Journal on September 22 for Mark Griffin's interview with Grammy Award-winner and Liza Minnelli collaborator Billy Stritch. Stritch arranged her new album "Confessions" and will appear with her on September 29 in Portland, Maine.

Mark Griffin is the author of the new biography "A Hundred or More Hidden Things: The Life and Films of Vincente Minnelli."

Vincente Minnelli Biographer Mark Griffin interviewed on WCSH6 TV's "207"

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Final Minnelli Trivia Contest Winner

Congratulations to Sandra Dunlap for winning a signed copy of Mark Griffin's new book "A Hundred or More Hidden Things: The Life and Films of Vincente Minnelli." She had the correct answer of Jack Nicholson. He made an early screen appearance as Barbra Streisand's "ex-stepbrother" in Minnelli's final musical, "On A Clear Day You Can See Forever."

Monday, August 23, 2010

Final Chance - Vincente Minnelli Trivia

Congratulations to Derrick Casey for the correct answer to last week's trivia question. The answer is: Jack Benny. For having the right answer, Derrick won a free signed copy of Mark Griffin's new book: A Hundred or More Hidden Things: The Life and Films of Vincente Minnelli.

This is your last chance to win a free copy too!

TRIVIA QUESTION: Which future superstar made an early screen appearance as Barbra Streisand's "ex-stepbrother" in Minnelli's final musical, "On A Clear Day You Can See Forever"?

Go to the Hundred or More Hidden Things facebook page and post your answer!

The first person to answer correctly will receive a signed copy of the book.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Trivia for Classic Film Fans

Which comedian was considered for the role ultimately played by Spencer Tracy in Vincente Minnelli's Oscar-nominated comedy "Father of the Bride"?

Go to the facebook page for Mark Griffin's "A Hundred or More Hidden Things: The Life and Films of Vincente Minnell" and post your answer!

The first person to answer correctly will receive a signed copy of the book.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Congrats to our trivia winner!

Three cheers for Sara Freeman, who had the correct answer to our latest trivia question.

Her answer was: "Boys and Girls Like You and Me."

She has won a signed copy of "A Hundred or More Hidden Things: The Life and Films of Vincente Minnelli."

Stay tuned for our next trivia question....

Friday, August 13, 2010

Today's Vincente Minnelli Trivia

Classic Film Fans:

Judy Garland performed a lovely Rodgers and Hammerstein tune for Vincente Minnelli's "Meet Me In St. Louis" but the number was dropped from the final version of the film. What was the title of the song?

Go to the facebook page for Mark Griffin's "A Hundred or More Hidden Things: The Life and Films of Vincente Minnell" and post your answer!

The first person to answer correctly will receive a signed copy of the book.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Get on the Vincente Minnelli Trivia Contest band wagon!

Which major MGM star makes an unbilled cameo appearance in Vincente Minnelli's acclaimed musical "The Band Wagon"?

The first person to send the correct answer as a direct message to @movieswithmark on Twitter or post the correct answer on our facebook page at this link will win a signed copy of Mark Griffin's new biography A Hundred or More Hidden Things: The Life and Films of Vincente Minnelli.

Good luck!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Director's Cut

In the tradition of an extended “director’s cut” edition of a feature film, I’m pleased to present some bonus content in reference to A Hundred or More Hidden Things: The Life and Films of Vincente Minnelli. As so often happens in the making of a movie, certain sequences are trimmed - or eliminated altogether - during the final editing process, typically because of time constraints. It’s pretty much the same with books. In the case of A Hundred or More, several of my illustrious interview subjects contributed observations or anecdotes that wound up on ‘the cutting room floor.’ While the following quotes didn’t make it into the published version of the biography, I’m happy to have an opportunity to share them with you here…

Richard Barrios, film historian on Meet Me In St. Louis: “When you see all of those imitations of it – Centennial Summer (1946) and On Moonlight Bay (1951) and some of the others – it really makes you appreciate all that Minnelli accomplished with St. Louis…There are all these subtleties and neuroses underlying what are supposed to be otherwise sort of normal family structures. Of course, Minnelli was part of those conventional structures himself but it’s my conjecture that he never did really feel at home in them.”

Jeanine Basinger, film historian on Madame Bovary: “The definitive Vincente Minnelli movie probably really is Madame Bovary. People don’t think of that because it’s a famous, serious Flaubert novel and people just don’t ‘go there’ but if you think about the story and what it is, it’s very definitely him. In the novel and in other presentations of the story, Madame Bovary is a symbol for women who are foolish and who let their empty heads get filled with romantic nonsense that ends up destroying their lives. In Minnelli, it’s transferred into a different meaning, which is that she desires beauty or something lovely in her life. That’s a whole different tack on it. And also, the way he handled the ball scene is sublime. It lifts you out of your seat and into the kind of experience that you pray will happen if you go to the movies. You really have the vicarious thrill of the dream come true. I think it’s just the best Madame Bovary that there is.”

Angela Lansbury on The Clock: “Moyna [MacGill], my mother, played in The Clock – an extraordinary little gem of a performance and in a wonderful scene with Keenan Wynn. It just stood out. It was so funny and sad and awful and great. Pauline Kael gave her a wonderful review in the New Yorker, which thrilled my mother…I don’t know who gave her that terrific idea of eating her own pearls for that scene. It could have been Keenan or it could have been Vincente or she might well have thought of it herself because she had a wonderfully madcap sense of humor for certain situations. It’s just a very delicious bit.”

Jess Gregg, writer: “Before Hollywood, Minnelli was connected with some of the biggest revues on Broadway. One of his competitors was John Murray Anderson, who was well known at the time but very few people remember him today. He was one of the funniest, bitchiest men I ever met. The stories about him are murderous…He worked on Ziegfeld Follies of 1936 with Minnelli. And he directed things like John Murray Anderson’s Show of Shows. And ‘John Murray Anderson’s This’ and ‘John Murray Anderson’s That.’ Although they worked together, Minnelli and Anderson were competitors. But John Murray Anderson never had the artistry of Minnelli. And he didn’t have Minnelli’s sharp eye for making everything look so unusually beautiful. Anderson was an operator and I don’t think Minnelli was ever that. I mean, Anderson would surround himself mostly with gorgeous chorus people – these statuesque girls who were six feet tall, so when they walked across the room, you noticed. And the boys he always had around him were knockouts – the best looking boys in town. They couldn’t talk intelligently about anything but they were marvelous to look at…Anderson was much more showbiz than Minnelli. In fact, Minnelli never seemed to me to be showbiz in that kind of way. When Minnelli first started making movies, I think he had a bit of contempt - at that time - for Hollywood. Later, after he had made a great success at MGM, things seemed to change… I don’t think he wanted to tamper with the bosses.”

Matthew Tinkcom, film scholar: “I think that Minnelli learned a huge amount from queer subcultures in New York and Chicago. I think that the theatrical scene was one that was really nurturing to his aesthetic and his way of looking at the world. Hollywood was actually a huge queer subculture and one of the centers of it in U.S. life. But I think that Minnelli was taking an aesthetic that hadn’t been there before from his theatrical training. That’s why he flourished – because there was no one else doing what he did…I think there was a kind of community in the Freed Unit that was receptive both to his aesthetic and to whatever kind of ambiguous sexuality we’re talking about. At least on the Metro lot and especially in the Freed Unit, there was a kind of laissez faire attitude towards there being queer employees. The Freed Unit, was in fact, a kind of place where queer talent could flourish and then, on the other hand, Vincente Minnelli was a particular kind of talent who really flourished in that setting…Metro was in trouble in the late 1940’s and early 50’s and all of their balance sheets demonstrate that – like the rest of the industry – they were about to have a crash. I think they were baldly, from a financial point of view, saying, ‘Who around here makes unique products that we can put our stamp on?...’ And Minnelli was one of the key people.”

Sir Gerald Kaufman: “I met him when he came to do what was called a Guardian lecture at the National Film Theatre. They weren’t lectures at all. They were interviews. And some people are very, very good at them. In the case of Vincente Minnelli, you could scarcely get an answer out of him – he was so inarticulate. They gave a reception for him after the lecture and I was invited to it. I had something wrong with my neck at the time and I was wearing one of those surgical collars and he recognized me but when he said, ‘Hello’ to me, he said, ‘Ah, Father Callahan, I presume?’ You know, pretending for the moment’s joke that I was wearing a clerical collar and not a surgical collar…When you think about those brilliant numbers that he directed in Ziegfeld Follies, for example, nobody else would have directed them like that and that means that even within the Hollywood studio system, he was an auteur. There’s no doubt whatsoever about that…When I asked him, ‘What film by another director would you most like to have made?’ He answered, La Grande Illusion. I thought that was significant because I regard that as the greatest film ever made. The fact that he instantly – without a moment’s pause – said that, told you something about him. You can’t imagine Bryan Forbes saying he wished he had directed Grand Illusion.”

Irving Brecher, screenwriter (Meet Me In St. Louis, Yolanda and the Thief): “I was practically finished with the script of St. Louis and Minnelli read it and he was very complimentary about it. After the compliments, he said, “I’m sure you’re open to some changes…?” I said, “Of course.” So we started working it over together and I would act everything out for him and Vincente would react and he would try to be the audience. Occasionally – more than often – he would say, “I love that bit but you know that line that you have in the dining room scene…What if we tried something a little different in that spot?” In most cases, I would accommodate him as long as I was happy with [the change] myself. I didn’t concede anything to him if I didn’t want to. We went through it day by day, week by week for a month and finally finished it to our satisfaction and we turned it in. [Arthur] Freed was not a guy who read anything until it was finished and then he didn’t necessarily have the proper opinion in terms of what the work was. He was not good on scripts. He was good on music. He was excellent on casting. At any rate, we turned it in and the first words we got were from upstairs. The executives didn’t like it. There was no story. We were not surprised that they discovered that there was no plot but we were very concerned that they didn’t like it. Because we had been very meticulous about everything. There was nothing just thrown in. In ’44, Meet Me In St. Louis came out. After the preview, all the guys who said it had no plot stopped me on the street and congratulated me and they were kind enough to say, ‘You know, when I read it, I really didn’t like it but it sure turned out great…’ They were very generous. Al Lichtman, MGM’s head of distribution, who knew something about numbers, said, ‘This will be the biggest grosser in the history of the company up till now…’ He was right and today, it’s still raking in money every year and it’s considered one of the greatest movies ever made.”

Marian Horosko, dancer in the ballet sequence from An American in Paris: “When I first went on the set, we were shooting the Place de la Concorde scene and Vincente Minnelli was very high up on the boom – looking down at all of us – and in his lap was this little girl with these great big eyes and she was fascinated. And that was Liza. And actually, I have to admit, we played to her. She looked like four or five, maybe. You know, on the set you usually don’t have an audience but here was this child who was very interested in everything we were doing. Having Liza with him was a big treat for us and he was very pleased that she liked what she saw…She wasn’t a kid who just looked at it like a circus. She somehow got into it. I think her talent was blossoming or just forming at that point and even at that early age, she saw where she wanted to go.”

Darryl Hickman, actor on Minnelli and Tea and Sympathy: “I never saw the play on Broadway but it seems pretty clear what Robert Anderson was writing about – you know, this kid being accused of being gay and nobody really knows whether that’s true or not. I’m sure that MGM – being MGM – was sort of halfway committed to that. In those days, they had to be afraid of that kind of subject matter. I’m surprised that they made the film at all looking back at what a dicey subject that was for Hollywood at that time. Very daring. I think you have to give them credit for even going as far as they did…In the world that I grew up in at MGM, there were people that we – in our inside world – knew were probably gay – George Cukor and others – and they were family. The message that I got growing up at the studio was that it was really nobody’s business but ours. Within the ‘family,’ nobody was to even mention anything like that. It was not discussed…And I think that was the way that Minnelli was dealt with. He was effeminate and if there are any people who are not, as a general rule, effeminate – it’s a film crew. They’re totally the other way. They can be crude and sometimes obnoxious and they swear a lot. Macho. They’re really the opposite of anybody who’s sensitive…But Minnelli was a major director and there was a respect for him because of who he was. And he was a part of the family, that’s all.”

Joe McElhaney, editor of Vincente Minnelli: The Art of Entertainment, on A Matter of Time: “I think that A Matter of Time, more than any other film, proves that [Minnelli] is a deeply personal filmmaker and that, in fact, the vision is not dependent on genre. What genre does A Matter of Time belong to? It’s a bit of a melodrama. It’s a bit of a musical. It’s a bit of a comedy. It’s not really any genre. The producer clearly interfered every step of the way and almost destroyed the film. And yet, it’s almost the most pure, the most distilled of all of his films.”

David Gerstner, film scholar: “Minnelli always said that painting was his first love. That’s the way that he approached theatre. And that’s the way that he approached film – that it was a canvas. And putting the films together in a certain way was to, in fact, paint the entire thing the way he envisioned it…In An American in Paris, you can literally see the texture of the paint. It is a painterly film. When Gene Kelly’s paintings pop up on the screen, you can see Minnelli’s desire – his wish to have the texture of the paint shown throughout the film. And in watching the film, you can feel the texture. There are moments where it’s like an impasto, it’s so thick – and not just the paintings but the film itself. Look at how textured the ballet sequence is. Minnelli is all about texture and he’s all about layers.”

Ben Geary: “I met Vincente in 1978 in Athens, Ohio , which is the home of Ohio University. The occasion was an international film festival, which I inaugurated in Athens and that particular year, we invited Vincente Minnelli to be our guest for a week so that he could conduct a seminar with Ohio University film students and to headline a retrospective of his movies that we presented at the Athena Theatre in Athens, Ohio, which was my theatre…Minnelli was an especially interesting guest in many ways. I liked his demeanor. He was very soft-spoken, very low key and very enjoyable. I was quite taken by his kindness…I’ll tell you a little anecdote about Vincente. On the last day that he was in Athens, I escorted him back to the Columbus airport and we were talking and he felt a little lonely to travel by himself. So, I said, ‘I’ll sit with you until the gate opens and we’ll carry on some conversation, so that you won’t be too lonely while waiting for your plane…’ Well, after awhile, this woman comes in – very well dressed, very beautiful and it was Ann Miller. She had just finished a concert at the Palace Theatre in Columbus and she saw Vincente and they hugged each other and it turned out she was going back to L.A., too. Suddenly, he was no longer lonely.”

Michael Grace, nephew of Minnelli’s set decorator Henry Grace: “Marjorie Main [who starred in Meet Me In St. Louis] said that working for a studio like MGM was very factory-like. She said, ‘You have to remember that we got there in the morning, we reported to whatever set we were working on, we acted and we went home. I never found it glamorous at all. It’s actually a very lonely business.’…For a studio director like Minnelli, it was the same thing. These directors would finish one movie and then move on to the next one almost immediately. I met [George] Cukor twice and I asked him about this stuff and he said the same thing: ‘You know, I was always moving on to another movie...’ It isn’t like today where the director might be sitting there for a year cutting his film. You didn’t have that sort of luxury back then. It was a total assembly line.”

June Lockhart, actor on Meet Me In St. Louis: “I came on board to all of the films I did as a young girl very much adjusted to the fact that it was the director who was the captain of the ship. With Minnelli – he was in charge but in such an elegant way. There was no pressure and there was no temperament from him. And it was quite something to see him – in his understated way – guide these enormous scenes like the opening of the World’s Fair – with all of the lights and moving the extras around and everything. One of the things that I loved about making that film was that we got to rehearse and rehearse and rehearse till we finally shot it. We felt so comfortable in what we were doing because it had been very carefully worked out. For the Christmas dance scene, when I’m first brought into the film – it seems to me that we rehearsed that for well over a month and probably more…With Minnelli, it was like creating a full, painted portrait before the cameras even rolled.”

India Adams, on voice doubling for Cyd Charisse in The Band Wagon: “It was a deep, dark secret. You weren’t allowed to tell anybody. As a matter of fact, I went to New York for a visit and Dorothy Kilgallen had an item about it in her column. I remember it said, ‘The biggest guessing game around Radio City Music Hall is…Who sang for Cyd Charisse in The Band Wagoon?’ And I was dying to phone her up and say, ‘I did it! I did it! I’m here…’ but I didn’t have the nerve to do it. I don’t recall that I actually had to sign something saying that I wouldn’t reveal that it was my voice you heard but in those days it was understood that you just didn’t tell anybody…Now, long after the fact, it’s no longer a big secret.”

John Fricke, film historian: “When you consider the fact that Vincente was taken off of Easter Parade...historically, the blame for that is that Judy’s therapist went to Arthur Freed and said it wasn’t right – or good – for Judy and Vincente to be together all day and then working at the studio as well. I think you’ve got to go back and put that into perspective. There had just been a year of trouble on The Pirate. The Pirate was in questionable shape after its’ sneak previews in September of 1947, which is when Vincente was removed from Easter Parade. Whether it was Judy’s awareness or Freed’s awareness or Metro’s awareness, somebody got the message. The thought was, ‘After all of this trouble, we don’t trust Judy Garland with Vincente Minnelli in a professional way. This is not going in the right direction…’ If you look at the script they started with for Easter Parade, it’s as dour as the original Broadway show of Pal Joey. [Gene] Kelly’s character is that mean and thoughtless and manipulative and self-centered. In the final film, [Fred] Astaire isn’t self-centered. He’s absent-minded but not mean and manipulative. I’m not putting [Frances] Goodrich and [Albert] Hackett down for the original script that they did because we all know what great scenarists they were but somebody must have been pointing them in that kind of heavy-handed direction and I don’t know who it would have been but Vincente. If he was dismissed from that picture, I think it was because everybody realized, ‘If we have one more of these inaccessible musicals starring Judy Garland, we’re throwing her away. MGM could not afford to do that and that’s why Vincente was removed.”

Clive Hirschhorn, film historian: “As a creative artist, he was obviously always striving for something and dreaming to reach a peak of some kind of perfection in which everything he was good at – his sense of style, his design, his vision – all merge together beautifully. In the real world, that’s not likely to happen. It’s more likely that you’d achieve that kind of symbiosis in some kind of dream-like situation. The whole of Meet Me In St. Louis, I suppose, is one’s dream childhood, one’s dream family…In a way, it’s what Eugene O’Neill was trying to do with Ah, Wilderness! It was the one time that O’Neill was after something that none of his other plays had: a perfect world. The perfect family set-up. An idealized version of life. Though there really isn’t a dream sequence in Meet Me In St. Louis, the whole thing is very much like a dream and it does come close to the ideal that Minnelli was always striving for…I think throughout his whole career, he wanted to work out any problems he may have had through art. Art clearly played such a vital part in his life…life…One of his greatest non-musicals is Lust for Life and I think it’s one of the most successful non-musicals because of his total commitment to the material. I think he was so engaged in Lust for Life for obvious reasons – it was about a creative artist who had torments, as every creative artist probably does. Obviously in his design years, Minnelli painted and did sketches and he was trying to achieve some kind of style of his own but I’m sure there was also this need to cover up all sorts of things in art. I think art with a capital ‘A’ meant so much to Minnelli. And there’s no question that he was a genuine artist.”

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Rare Minnelli Photo

Vincente Minnelli, Delaware, Ohio, H.M.S. Pinafore, Gilbert and Sullivan showIn this rare and recently unearthed image from 1921, future Hollywood director Vincente Minnelli (then known as Lester Minnelli) appears in the Delaware (Ohio) High School Glee Club production of Gilbert and Sullivan's "H.M.S. Pinafore (or The Lass That Loved a Sailor)." Minnelli (who played able seaman Dick Deadeye) appears in the front row, the sixth figure from the right (standing between one of the sailors and a young lady partially obscured with a shadow). The musical, which was presented at the City Opera House on March 11 and 12, 1921 (at eight o'clock) was directed by Miss Elizabeth Sheen with Dale Bartholomew at the piano.

Monday, April 26, 2010

May 5: Meet Minnelli biographer Mark Griffin in Cambridge

Wednesday, May 5 at 7:00pm biographer Mark Griffin will introduce Vincente Minnelli's film Meet Me In St. Louis at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

A book sale and signing will follow the screening. Click HERE for directions to the theatre and more about the screening.

Griffin's new book A Hundred or More Hidden Things: The Life and Films of Vincente Minnelli has been described as "the best yet on Vincente Minnelli" by the Palm Beach Post and a "dazzling up-close parade of some of the most beloved movies of all times" by the Sacramento Book Review.

More about Griffin's book on Minnelli HERE.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Vincente Minnelli author at Maine Festival of the Book

Yesterday, Maine author Mark Griffin read from his new book A Hundred or More Hidden Things: The Life and Films of Vincente Minnelli at the 4th annual Maine Festival of the Book in Portland, Maine. View photos at this link.

Later that evening, friends and family gathered for a party celebrating the release of this new book. Photos from the event at this link.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Ready for his closeup

A longtime fan of old Hollywood, Lewiston native Mark Griffin views famed director Vincente Minnelli's story as one ripe for the telling.

March 28, 2010
By Ray Routhier
Staff Writer

It makes sense that Mark Griffin turned out to be a film writer.

Growing up in Lewiston, Griffin often stayed up late to watch old movies, and became fascinated by the grand Hollywood musicals of the 1940s and '50s. But while other kids might have just fixated on the stars – Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly – Griffin became fascinated with director Vincente Minnelli.

Minnelli directed classic musicals such as best picture Oscar winners "An American in Paris" (1951) and "Gigi" (1958), and dramas including "The Bad and the Beautiful" (1952) and "Lust for Life" (1956), both starring Kirk Douglas.

Griffin continued to be fascinated with Minnelli as he grew up and wrote about contemporary film. He finally got his chance to really delve into the director's life and career by writing a book, "A Hundred or More Hidden Things: The Life and Films of Vincente Minnelli" (Da Capo Press, $15.95).

The book, released March 1, follows Minnelli's long career and explores his marriage to Judy Garland and his relationship to daughter Liza Minnelli. Vincente Minnelli died in 1986.

Griffin interviewed more than 100 people for the book, including Kirk Douglas, Angela Lansbury, Tony Curtis and Lauren Bacall. It was picked as book of the month for April by the Turner Classic Movies cable channel.

Griffin's writings, including film reviews and essays, have appeared in the Boston Globe, MovieMaker magazine, Genre and other publications.

Q: How did you pick Vincente Minnelli to write about?

A: It's always been a magnificent obsession of mine, old movies, since I was a young child.... CLICK HERE to continue reading Q & A.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Palm Beach Post: New bio the best yet on Vincente Minnelli

New bio the best yet on Vincente Minnelli

Posted using ShareThis

What the critics are saying about Mark Griffin's new book on Vincente Minnelli

Sacramento Book Review, March 2010

“Griffin’s book is a dazzling up-close parade of some of the most beloved movies of all times…Who got the lead, offstage back-stabbing, production issues—all of these are covered in rich detail…A great book if you are interested in the man’s movies.”, 3/2/10

“Griffin reveals long-kept secrets at the heart of the enigmatic Minnelli’s genius.”

Irish Times, 3/4/10

“The author spoke to Lauren Bacall, Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Nanette Fabray, Angela Lansbury and many other Hollywood names and…they supply many a sparkling anecdote.”

Boston Globe, 3/11/10

“Devotes as much time to Minnelli’s marriage to Judy Garland as his work, and documents the turmoil of Minnelli’s first wife and ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’’ star…Griffin is quite good on Minnelli’s brilliant 1958 drama ‘Some Came Running,’ and its haunting carnival sequence.”

Now Playing, Turner Classic Movies, April 2010

“As author Mark Griffin persuasively demonstrates…Minnelli, in addition to building a remarkable Hollywood legacy, was creating nothing short of an autobiography in code…Drawing on more than 100 interviews…Griffin turns the spotlight on Hollywood’s ‘elegant director,’ revealing long-kept secrets at the heart of Minnelli’s true genius.”

Wisconsin Public Radio: Mark Griffin Interview

Earlier this month, Greg Berg interviewed Mark Griffin for The Morning Show on WGTD 91.1FM - Wisconsin Public Radio.

Listen to his interview at this link. They talked about Mark Griffin's new biography about Hollywood director Vincente Minnelli titled A Hundred or More Hidden Things: The Life and Films of Vincente Minnelli, published by Da Capo Press.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Thursday, March 11, 2010

"Griffin is quite good..." - The Boston Globe

"Griffin is quite good on Minnelli’s brilliant 1958 drama Some Came Running, and its haunting carnival sequence...."
~ Saul Austerlitz, The Boston Globe

Mark Griffin at the Maine Festival of the Book

On Saturday, April 10 at 11:00am, author Mark Griffin will read from his new book A Hundred or More Hidden Things: The Life and Films of Vincente Minnelli at the Maine Festival of the Book. He will share his experience interviewing celebrities for this new book on the Academy award-winning filmmaker who was also the husband of Judy Garland and father of Liza Minnelli.

Mark's reading will be held at the Abromson Center at the University of Southern Maine in Portland. Directions at this link.

In its three years of existence, the Maine Festival of the Book has featured more than 200 authors, including four Pulitzer Prize winners. This event brings together writers and readers to enjoy readings, panel discussions, book signings, and performances. With the exception of Opening Night and Youth Outreach, festival events are first-come, first-served, unticketed seating, and are free!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The New Yorker

“Mark Griffin's A Hundred or More Hidden Things: The Life and Films of Vincente Minnelli…a wealth of information about the filmmaker’s private life and about studio politics…” ~ Richard Brody, The New Yorker

Laura's Miscellaneous Musings

Laura's Miscellaneous Musings is written by a blogger with a love of classic films. She just read about A Hundred or More Hidden Things: The Life and Films of Vincente Minnelli in the April edition of the Turner Classic Movies "Now Playing" guide. This new book is featured in the "Book Corner" column.

She writes:

"The author conducted an impressive number of interviews and...the book has a great deal of fresh primary source research on its subject; for instance, the chapter on THE BAND WAGON has quotes from the author's interviews with James Mitchell and Nanette Fabray."

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Edge - Mark Griffin's new book

Check out what The Edge has to say about Mark Griffin's new book A Hundred or More Hidden Things: The Life and Films of Vincente Minnelli.

A Hundred Or More Hidden Things
by Phil Hall, EDGE Contributor
Wednesday Mar 3, 2010
If Mark Griffin’s biography is any indication, Vincente Minnelli lived a life full of contradictions. Despite confirmations by several men that Minnelli was openly and unapologetically gay, he was married four times--and if you don’t know who is first wife was, you’re on the wrong web site!... CONTINUE READING

Booklist: Review of Mark Griffin's new Vincente Minnelli biography

Check out A Hundred or More Hidden Things: The Life and Films of Vincente Minnelli on Amazon .
“This highly readable volume about Hollywood director Vincente Minnelli deftly balances Griffin’s strong emotional connection to Minnelli’s work, which he celebrates generally in the heartfelt introduction, and a scholarly desire to unearth the truth abut the man and critically analyze the work. By turns gossipy and informative, catty and objective…Griffin reveals fascinating details of Minnelli’s early life and artistic development…Griffin’s informative discussions of Minnelli’s masterpieces and misses go a long way toward showing why Minnelli should be remembered for more than his ill-fated marriage to Judy Garland (and more successful fathering of Liza Minnelli). Griffin’s book will satisfy both readers hoping for Hollywood dirt and those hoping for a deeper appreciation of Minnelli’s work.” — Booklist

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Q Syndicate: Review of new Vincente Minnelli biography

“[A] compelling biography…Effervescent.”
~ Richard Labonte, Q Syndicate

There's not much gossip about director Vincente Minnelli's queer
proclivities in this otherwise compelling biography. That could be
because there's not much to gossip about. Last year's leaden
biography, Hollywood's Dark Dreamer by Emanuel Levy (the first
full-length study of Minnelli and his movies), referred to dalliances
with a bit player and a gardener while he was married to Judy Garland.
There's not much more on the sexual side in Griffin's more
effervescent bio - a "perhaps" reference to something physical with a
Japanese valet - though Minnelli's schoolyard sissiness, adult
penchant for discreet eyeliner and often fey on-set behavior are part
of the life story. Though he married three more times after he and
Garland dissolved their union, that Minnelli was gay is a given for
Griffin; his approach to "hidden things" is to assess several of the
director's films - most notably his first, Cabin in the Sky, along
with the notorious Tea and Sympathy and the late-career Goodbye,
Charlie through a deductive queer prism.

Richard Labonte has been reading, editing, selling, and writing about queer literature since the mid-70s. He can be reached in care of this publication or at

Monday, March 1, 2010

Library Journal: Mark Griffin's new book on Vincente Minnelli

"..well-written and tasteful work..."
~ Carol J. Binkowski, Library Journal

Read the full Library Journal review of Mark Griffin's new book A Hundred or More Hidden Things: The Life and Films of Vincente Minnelli at this link.

Published by Da Capo Press
Biography / Film
$15.95 | $20.00 (Can.)
ISBN 978-0-78672-099-6
E-BOOK ISBN 978-0-306-81893-6
6 x 9 | 320 pages | 70 B&W photos

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Internet Review of Books: Not your usual gossip feast

“Not your traditional tell-all gossip feast…Instead, the book offers the reader a meticulously researched chapter-by-chapter portal to Minnelli’s thirty-three films…One of the pleasures of Griffin’s book, which essentially ends more than thirty years ago with Minnelli’s final film, is the joy of discovery. We can now see for ourselves overlooked masterpieces in film on DVD…Mark Griffin has pointed the way to 33 fascinating other movies worth watching.”
~ Charles L. Hoyt, Internet Review of Books

Read the full review in the Internet Review of Books at this link.

April 10: Mark Griffin at Maine Festival of the Book

On Saturday, April 10 at 11:00am, author Mark Griffin will read from his new book A Hundred or More Hidden Things: The Life and Films of Vincente Minnelli at the Maine Festival of the Book.

Mark's reading will be held at the Abromson Center at the University of Southern Maine. Directions at this link.

In its three years of existence, the Maine Festival of the Book has featured more than 200 authors, including four Pulitzer Prize winners. This event brings together writers and readers to enjoy readings, panel discussions, book signings, and performances. With the exception of Opening Night and Youth Outreach, festival events are first-come, first-served, unticketed seating, and are free!

Connecticut Post: The boy who loved On a Clear Day You Can See Forever

“A smart new biography…Griffin puts the life and the films together in a fresh manner…Griffin makes a pretty good case that the deeply closeted artist was able to express many ‘hidden things’ in his films…The book is a fine combination of scholarship and film criticism.” — Joe Meyers, Connecticut Post

Read the full review at this link.

March 9: Author Mark Griffin at Lewiston Public Library

Book Talk: Mark Griffin on the life and art of film director Vincente Minnelli

DATE: Tuesday, March 9
TIME: 7 p.m.

Lewiston Public Library
Callahan Hall
200 Main St., Lewiston, Maine

Free and open to the public.

FMI: 207-513-3135

Author Mark Griffin will speak on his newly published book A Hundred or More Hidden Things: The Life and Films of Vincente Minnelli. Copies of the book will be available for purchase and signing.

Read recent Lewiston Sun Journal article at this link.

Trail Blazer

It's one of those eternal questions that every member of the human race finds themselves pondering at some point. You know, the kind of heavy duty question that inspires more in-depth soul searching than "What's it all about, Alfie?" and prompts greater self-reflection than "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" As down-to-business inquiries go, it's even more in-your-face than "Do Ya Wanna Funk?" Of course, I'm referring to the ultimate sixty-four dollar question that everyone from Gandhi to Michelle Obama has undoubtedly asked themselves at some point in their lives. Namely: "What the hell am I going to wear?"

Next week, I'm off to the Museum of Modern Art's Film Center as I've been invited to pay tribute to my cinematic super hero...the incomparable Vincente Minnelli (who helmed such sumptuously produced movie masterpieces as Meet Me In St. Louis, An American in Paris and Gigi). Now if one were honoring a distinctly urban auteur (like Martin Scorsese) or some cutting edge hipster (say Robert Rodriquez), you could get away with wearing a mad bomber hat and some faded denim. However, when one is paying homage to Hollywood's "master of the decorative image," this requires some serious spiffing up.

The trouble is I reside in southern Maine and let's just say that there isn't a Bergdorf-Goodman on every corner (hell, there isn't even indoor plumbing on every corner). Nevertheless, I was determined to find an elegant ensemble for my forthcoming appearance - one that was truly worthy of my favorite filmmaker. Due to a constrained budget, my dream outfit also had to be affordable while somehow evoking MGM at its most luxurious (think: Ziegfeld Follies or the spectacular fashion show finale from Lovely to Look At). My dear friend Keary, who is angelically good-natured and willing to put up with yours truly (in all six shades of diva) agreed to accompany me on a strategic mission to find the appropriate get-up (alright, cards on the table: I ordered him to drive me all over the state without stopping for so much as an oyster cracker along the way).

While Keary took on the turnpike, I laid down the ground rules. The obligatory navy blue blazer - far too savings and loan for our purposes - was immediately ruled out. Khaki, serge gray and beige were all instantly disqualified as none of these selections would have been invited to appear before Mr. Minnelli's Technicolor cameras in 1948. It was clear that some kind of hypnotically-hued garment was required...though certainly not the kind of Palm Springs pastels favored by those on the PGA tour.

I had visions of a one-of-a-kind blazer drenched in what set designers at MGM used to refer to as "Minnelli red" - a super-saturated shade of scarlet that turned up time and again in Minnelli's movies - most notably in Hermione Gingold's snug sitting room in Gigi (1958). When I marched into the first J.C. Penney we spotted and demanded to see whatever they had in "Minnelli red," the haggard, spinsterish sales clerk peered over her granny glasses and treated me to an incredulous look that simultaneously said, "You've got to be kidding..." and "Baby, when did you leave Uranus?"

Go figure but none of the local retailers we visited had anything in Minnelli red - not out back, in the warehouse or even stashed in the storage locker of the only out and proud transvestite employed in southern Maine. I began to despair - not only was Wal-Mart fresh out of Minnelli red smoking jackets but Keary's overburdened snow tires were now worn down to the size of Necco wafers. Things looked pretty bleak. It was not unlike that moment in The Band Wagon (1953) when Fred Astaire thinks he's washed up and all over - not realizing that a stunning comeback and a stunning Cyd Charisse are just around the corner.

At my lowest ebb, my nephew Ryan suddenly recalled renting a most becoming cummerbund from the one haberdashery in the entire godforsaken state that Keary and I (though mostly Keary) had somehow overlooked. As we sped off toward the establishment that my nephew had recommended, I decided that we should alter our approach. Perhaps the term "Minnelli red" was throwing people off - especially sales clerks who clearly considered Marley and Me (2008) some kind of landmark achievement in contemporary cinema.

When we burst through the doors of our Absolutely Last Chance, I gathered the entire sales staff together and proceeded to pit the over-anxious clerks against one another. "Okay, now listen up," I said, doing my best to sound as bullish and NFL as possible. "The first person who finds me something totally smoking in aubergine gets one humongous tip. Now get cracking, team!" They zipped off in different directions like guppies.

After the floor had cleared, a pleasingly plump assistant manager approached. She told us that her name was Rola and in the course of ten highly informative minutes, we also learned that she was Lebanese, the mother of two, a former short order cook and an organ donor. After we were thoroughly briefed on Rola's entire existence up to that point, she pulled us close, prepared to share some kind of highly classified insider secret with us. For the first time since we'd been introduced, Rola did not speak. Instead, she pointed toward an enormous rack of business suits and blazers. Everyone in the store suddenly gasped in unison. There in the midst of apparel so conservative that Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele would have cleaned house, was a sliver of color - and a glimmer of hope. Could it be? Was it possible that buried beneath all of those bland Brooks Brothers knock-offs, there was $245 worth of MGM glitz sitting on a plastic hanger?

Keary and I exchanged astonished looks as Rola cast her eyes heavenward and muttered a Lebanese prayer (or an epic-length, obscenity-laced tirade for all we know). Here it was! After countless miles and innumerable descriptions of Gigi's living room, we had finally hit paydirt. We had found it...the motherlode. The holy grail of budget men's wear. And as though Minnelli were directing the entire scene from his own Culver City in the sky, my Technicolor blazer fit perfectly and it didn't require even the slightest bit of alteration. As Rola bid us goodbye (after telling us all about her aunt's homemade remedy for scurvy) we walked out of the store with irrefutable proof that miracles still exist in modern times.

"I can't believe what just happened," Keary said as he struggled to carry the mountainous stack of coordinating accessories that I had just purchased. "I can," I answered. "It's called divine providence. Besides, at MGM they used to say that insurmountable challenges always made for a better picture."

"Well, if that's the case," Keary responded as he kicked a slightly deflated front tire, "we just called it a 'wrap' on a four star classic."