December 5th is International Volunteer Day, which gives us the opportunity to say a huge thank you to all volunteers, past and present, who freely give their time to help run Plymouth Arts Centre. We couldn’t do it without you!
I must confess I decided I had to book Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool for Plymouth Arts Centre a year before I had even seen it. When I heard that filming had started, there was no question in my mind that we were going to screen it.
When I started as Film Programmer at Plymouth Arts Centre, almost twenty years ago, the first volunteer I got to know was a man called John Leonard. The arts centre, like many other small arts organisations relies heavily on its volunteer staff and they are a wonderful bunch of people, from all walks of life, of all ages and with many interests.
John’s passion was for films and his knowledge was extensive. He particularly loved films from the golden age of Hollywood and we would spend many hours chatting about our favourite directors and stars.
There were two film stars who he idolised; Dirk Bogarde and Gloria Grahame. I knew Bogarde of course but my memory had to be prompted to place Grahame. As soon as he mentioned Violet Bick in It’s A Wonderful Life I realised who she was. Who can forget her brilliant performance as the small town flirt who dreams of the bright lights and big city? When she puts her dreams aside to help George Bailey, it’s such a nuanced performance we forget she is condemning herself to the parochial life she hates. There is an effervescence about her that can only have been achieved by an actress this good. She is sass personified.
John recommended I find a copy of her great noir film In A Lonely Place and watch her in a completely different role. Directed by Nicholas Ray in 1950, it is now considered to be one of the very best film noirs with both Grahame and her co-star Humphrey Bogart at the pinnacle of their considerable talents. At a time in Hollywood when it seems women on screen were allowed to be smart, sad, world weary and tough, Grahame brings an added complexity to her portrayal of Laurel Gray adding a vulnerability that is heart-breaking to watch.
John lent me a book he thought I would enjoy: Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool. Gloria Grahame had a love affair while in her fifties with actor Peter Turner, who was in his twenties. She ended up spending her last days in his family home in Liverpool. The story seemed too far-fetched to be believable. But I knew John had better taste than that so I read it and it turned out to be a tender, discreet, unassuming love story.
And now, all these years later, the memoir has become a film and what a lovely film it is. The screenplay dares to show the burgeoning romance between Peter and the much older Grahame with a sweetness and tenderness that is immediately believable and captures the joy, the fun and the poignancy of it. The only tragedy in the film is her refusal to face the reality of her illness and the sense we get of a brilliant life cut unnecessarily short.
Anna Navas, Film Programmer
In memory of John Leonard
It’s a Wonderful Life (U)
Thursday 21st December – Saturday 23rd December
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (15)
Wednesday 27th December 2017 – Thursday 4th January 2018
In a Lonely Place (PG)
Friday 29th December 2017 – Wednesday 3rd January 2018