1956 to 1969 was the time spanning my childhood and teenage years. I was very fond of the movies and was a bona fide, humble fan. Several international female stars of that era, despite some of them not being acclaimed, impressed upon me so much with their different kinds of beauty and grace, ever diversifying my perception of and respect for the meaning and scope of beauty. That indirectly contributed to my subsequent decision in 1970 of going to the U.S.A. to study art and aesthetics in university, a journey I took to pursue a deeper appreciation of beauty.
Time flies by, but the former elegance of these stars still mesmerizes me. So, in reminiscence of them, I respectfully write this article in admiration as a fan.
The stars are listed below in the chronological order of the date I first saw each of them on a cinema screen.
In 1956, “Helen of Troy” went into release in Hong Kong. In the hands of director Robert Wise, this romantic and plot-twisting Greek legend became an epic movie in Cinemascope about awesome warriors and queens. The leading lady was Rossana Podesta. Allegedly, she beat Elizabeth Taylor, Lana Turner, and Ava Gardner in getting the role (Note 1). At that time, I thought she gave a divine performance of the queen with the face that launched a thousand ships who caused the ten years’ siege of Troy by the Greeks. I still remember at the end of this tragic movie, the long shot and close-up of her longingly gazing far away on a battle ship were so breathtakingly melancholic.
It was 1966 when I next saw a Rossana Podesta movie, “Seven Golden Men”, followed in 1967 by “Seven Golden Men Strike Again”. Her acting in those two movies, however, was very down to earth.
In 1959, “The Big Country” went into release in Hong Kong. This was another epic movie from a famous director. This time, it was a Western. Jean Simmons portrayed a school teacher. She did not get upstaged either by the magnificent, spectacular sceneries, or by superstars Gregory Peck and Charlton Heston. (These two superstars won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role four years and one year later respectively.) I still remember the gorgeous look of her wearing a cowboy hat on the back of her neck, the patrician persona that came across in her demeanour, and the mystery and challenge in her eyes.
After I saw this movie, I really wanted to locate a cinema re-run of “The Robe”. For various reasons, I failed. Later on, in the U.S.A., I saw “Elmer Gantry” during a film class in university; and “Spartacus” on television. About ten years ago, I finally saw “The Robe” on DVD. She was only twenty-four when making this movie. In the last scene, she, alongside Richard Burton, smilingly embarked on their road to martyrdom, and she looked so classically beautiful and valiantly heroic.
In 1959, “Green Mansions” went into release in Hong Kong. Though Audrey Hepburn had already been a hot star, it was the first time I saw her on a cinema screen. Though “Green Mansions” was not a very entertaining movie, in it, Audrey Hepburn often had dreamy entrances against a jungle backdrop. Her silken long hair and simple, primitive outfits were so different in comparison to her most chic images in fashion magazines, surpassing my wildest expectations. I was really dazzled by this sparkling star.
Subsequently, I saw Audrey Hepburn in “My Fair Lady”, “How to Steal a Million”, “Two for the Road”, “Robin and Marian”, “Bloodline”, and “Always” respectively in the cinema. I liked the first three movies most. “My Fair Lady” showcased her classical acting. “How to Steal a Million” was a vehicle for her chic persona. “Two for the Road” was a tour de force of vicissitude portrayal, acting out the tolerance, forgiveness, compromise, and rekindling often demanded by marriage, leading me to arrive at another level of respect for marriage.
In her later years, Audrey Hepburn was a Goodwill Ambassador of UNICEF. She went to Africa, South America, and Asia to help children suffering from hunger and diseases (Note 2). I have had tremendous respect for her, missing that much more her bright, intelligent eyes, and her charming, accented voice. I bought a DVD for every single movie in which she was a leading lady (something I haven’t done for any other star). Out of all her movies, I love “Roman Holiday” best, a masterpiece of screen romance. She also won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for it. Among the others, “Sabrina” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” are also classics that I never get tired of watching.
In 1964, “El Cid” went into release in Hong Kong. This movie not only had sweeping war scenes of epic proportions, surprisingly, it also had tender, sensitive depiction of romance. Sophia Loren and Charlton Heston portrayed a pair of lovers who first became enemies before eventually becoming wife and husband. I remember in the barn scene, they eyed and talked to each other so intimately and adoringly. Sophia Loren had already won an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role in “Two Women”. In “El Cid”, she layered an originally non-demanding acting role with an unforgettable performance. When I left the cinema, it was her face, not the war scenes so aggressively advertised in the newspapers, which stuck in my memory.
The next Sophia Loren movie I saw was “Operation Crossbow” in 1965, followed by “Arabesque”, “Judith”, “The Cassandra Crossing”, “Pret-a-Porter”, and “Nine”. One interesting thing about Sophia Loren was that time and again, in hard-boiled action movies, she unpredictably brought the audience surprising moments of tenderness.
In 1965, “That Man from Rio” went into release in Hong Kong. Please do not underrate this movie. Director Steven Spielberg credited it for inspiring “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (Note 3). When I saw it, I was very impressed by the leading lady Francoise Dorleac, for I had not seen insouciance been portrayed so rivetingly on the screen before. Whether when she was driving a convertible, or awakened by leading man Jean-Paul Belmondo on the beach, or dancing with a Brazilian boy, she was so carefree and energetic. One more thing, her face looked sometimes classy, sometimes fashionable, and sometimes indigenous. It was very unpredictable.
Since then, I paid special attention to Francoise Dorleac movies. I saw “Genghis Khan”, “Where the Spies Are”, and “The Young Girls of Rochefort”, the movie in which she starred alongside her sister Catherine Deneuve.
Unfortunately, in 1967, in the midst of a booming career, she was killed in a car accident. She was only twenty-five.
In 1965, “Circus World” went into release in Hong Kong. I went to see it because of Claudia Cardinale, as she, once referred to by Italian newspapers as “Italy’sweetheart”, had been getting noticed in Hong Kong.
I was surprised to see on the screen that Claudia Cardinale, though already twenty-six and had been a screen actress for six years, displayed a certain naiveté. Her mature face was accompanied by ingenuousness. This worked very well with her character in “Circus World” who needed the protection of John Wayne and Rita Hayworth.
After this movie, I paid more attention to her news. Subsequently, I saw “8 1/2” and “Bebo’s Girl” in the City Hall Cinema which often served as a playhouse for art films. I later saw “The Professionals” in a commercial cinema. Eventually, I saw “The Leopard” on DVD. In all these movies, Claudia Cardinale gave me the same impression mentioned above.
In 1966, “Nevada Smith” went into release in Hong Kong. I finally saw Suzanne Pleshette on the screen. Back in 1962, when the Hong Kong newspaper ads of “Rome Adventure” introduced her as ‘The new sweetheart discovered by Hollywood’ (Note 4), I had started to pay attention to her stories and photos. In 1963, it was announced that she would reteam with Troy Donahue in “A Distant Trumpet”. At the beginning of 1964, it was reported that this ‘exemplar screen couple’ got married in real life. But eight months later, news came that they got divorced. This gave me a heartfelt realization that perfect things might not last, and this viewpoint has affected my filmmaking and graphic artmaking ever since.
The Suzanne Pleshette I saw in “Nevada Smith” actually outshone her reputation. The most unique thing about her was her hoarse but attractive voice, radiating seasoned wisdom and sympathy. She also had a face which yielded more beautiful elements the more it was looked upon. She used low-key acting to make an underwritten character worthy of watching. Incidentally, the death of this character in the movie gave me tremendous grief of separation.
Subsequently, I saw “Rome Adventure” and “A Distant Trumpet”. I also saw “The Birds” and “Blackbeard’s Ghost”. Suzanne Pleshette never disappointed me in any of those movies. In the Seventies, she became popular in American television shows, making her mark in the history of American television (Note 5).
In 1967, “A Man and a Woman” went into release in Hong Kong. This movie had already won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and the Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or, and it would become one of the classics that would influence my entire filmmaking career. It was an aesthetic tour de force. The photography was breathtaking. The sepia-toned screen changed colors from time to time, dazzling in turn in pink, orange, brown, green, purple, and blue. The music was romantic and catchy. In addition, Anouk Aimee was an important aesthetic element. Many times, without saying any lines, as long as she was on the screen, pleasantness and mellowness were felt. There was a scene in which she and the leading man took their children on a fishing boat ride to reach a beach. Her lines were not audible, but it seemed that the feelings of her clinging on to the past, enjoyment of the present, and looking forward to the future all came across. Anouk Aimee was a testimony of the famous Hollywood saying, ‘The camera either loves you or hates you.’ In her case, the camera definitely loved her. As long as she was in front of the camera, it was able to catch her moments of beauty.
I subsequently searched for Anouk Aimee movies to watch, and saw “Lola”, “La Dolce Vita”, and “8 1/2”, all were highly acclaimed by critics of art films.
In 1968, “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” went into release in Hong Kong. This movie, helmed by the French New Wave director Jacques Demy, won the Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or and had since been widely reported. I had been longing to see it and I finally did. Every single line in this movie was sung. The director used a lot of pastel colors to underline the fairy tale characterization of Catherine Deneuve, the leading lady. Light blue, light yellow, and pink dresses, walls, and umbrellas frequented the screen. There was a scene in which the leading man, having been enlisted into the army, had to bid farewell to the leading lady. It started in a café and extended to the railway platform. Catherine Deneuve sobbed and sang out the theme song simultaneously, all accompanied by the director’s lyrical camera movements. This has become one of the most heartbreaking scenes that I have ever watched.
At the end of the movie, these star-crossed lovers ran into each other again. The leading lady was with the daughter from her relationship with this former, heartbreakingly separated lover. But there was absolutely no attempt in paternal reunion. Instead, there were only matter-of-fact exchanges. Catherine Deneuve’s brilliantly acted out facial expressions testified to the destruction of love by the forces of time and reality, a lesson about life that I harvested into the back of my mind.
I subsequently watched her in “The Young Girls of Rochefort”, a musical in which she starred with her sister, Francoise Dorleac. In this movie, director Jacques Demy again cast Catherine Deneuve in a character of fairy tale proportions. However, many other directors liked to cast her in aloof and mysterious roles. Later, I saw Catherine Deneuve in “Belle de Jour”, “Mississippi Mermaid”, “March or Die”, and “The Hunger”.
In 1968, “Petulia” went into release in Hong Kong. Julie Christie had already won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her performance in “Darling”. Since then, two more of her movies had been released in Hong Kong. However, due to tight exam schedules, I had not been able to see any of them. “Petulia” was not a generally acclaimed movie, but Julie Christie shone in it. Her stares were so intense and her stubborn lips delivered lines with defiance. Those qualities were rare among her peers. In the movie, whether when she was wearing fur and upstaging the host in a charity party, or dressed trendily and silently eyeballing people in an Aquatic Park, she radiated the wildness and confusion of a psychedelic era. For transitions, the director often used stylish camera dissolves featuring beautiful flowers. Surprisingly, that reminded me to also look out for the quiescent aspects of the leading lady’s performance.
In later years, other Julie Christie movies I saw included “Doctor Zhivago”, “Shampoo”, “Heaven Can Wait”, “Power”, and “Finding Neverland”. Among those, “Heaven Can Wait” was my favourite. It inspired me to develop and produce the Chinese language movie “Fly Me to Polaris”, which might be construed as a homage to Julie Christie.
In 1969, “Bullitt” went into release in Hong Kong. For most moviegoers, the most unforgettable thing in it was a spectacular, adrenalin pumping car chase in San Francisco. However, for me, the thing that got etched in my mind was the performance of Jacqueline Bisset. Whether when she was first introduced in the movie dressed in yellow, or smiling and pondering in the Jazz restaurant, or waiting in the convertible holding her chin, or pouring her heart out to Steve McQueen by the water, she glowed with a beauty of sincerity. Adding to this sincerity was her uncontrived British accent.
Since then, I had paid special attention to her movies. Before I went to America, I saw “You Don’t Need Pajamas at Rosie’s” and “Airport”.
When I was at university in the U.S.A., even my professor in the Cinema Faculty got wind of the fact that Jacqueline Bisset was my idol. One day, I was in my dormitory room. Suddenly, I heard someone knocking on the door. I opened the door and found my professor standing right there with a magazine full of photos of Jacqueline Bisset. He gave this magazine to me as a gift.
In the spring of 1974, while doing my post-graduate studies in the U.S.A., I was feeling depressed because of a severe winter yielding months of snow. I even started to doubt my decisions of studying cinema and choosing it as my future career. Right at that time, I went to see “Day for Night” in the cinema. In this movie, helmed by the famous director Francois Truffaut, Jacqueline Bisset gave a ravishing performance portraying a movie star living through incidents during the filming of a movie. Upon leaving the cinema, my depression and self-doubt vanished. It was obvious that Jacqueline Bisset had a tremendous influence on me.
Since then, other Jacqueline Bisset movies I saw included “The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean”, “Murder on the Orient Express”, “The Deep”, “Who’s Killing the Great Chefs of Europe”, and “When Time Ran Out”.
Each of the above stars had a magical impact on me. In my journey of life, they have not only been passing and returning idols garnering my reminiscing, some of them were also teachers who cast guiding lights.
Thank you for reading.
1. Information sourced from www.nationalenquirer.com
2. Please see www.wikipedia.org
3. Information sourced from www.chicagotribune.com
4. Please see playitagain.info
5. Please see www.nytimes.com
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