Cinematic Eye: Susan Granger on ‘150 Timeless Movies’ (Q&A)

Today, I’m delighted to host Susan Granger for a #FridayFeature.

Susan is the author of 150 Timeless Movies (Hannacroix Creek Books). She grew up in Hollywood; her father was director/producer S. Sylvan Simon, and, after his untimely death at 41 while filming “From Here to Eternity”, her mother remarried and Susan’s step-father was MGM producer Armand Deutsch. Susan got her journalism degree from the University of Pennsylvania. She has been reviewing movies for more than 25 years and is the reviewer for Video Librarian magazine as well as for her movie blog, www.susangranger.com. She makes her home in Westport, CT.

susan-granger
Author Susan Granger.

Praise for 150 Timeless Movies:

“No one knows more about movies, old and new, and the way the film world works than Susan. So what an immense treat it is to have her for the first time talk about 150 of the movies that have intrigued her most within the covers of one book…”—Robert Osborne, host for Turner Classic Movies

“Susan Granger is a wonderful film critic who has a generous heart, a delightful capacity for wonder, a keen critical eye, and a dexterous way with words. She writes spot-on reviews that are both well-informed and entertaining to read.”—Randy Pitman, Publisher/Editor, Video Librarian

From the publisher:

This is a choice collection of 150 movie reviews of classic and contemporary timeless movies by international syndicated film critic Susan Granger. It includes films from the earliest days to today, from the Russian film, “Battleship Potemkin” (1925) and “Gone With the Wind” (1939) to “Bridge of Spies” (2015) and “Zootopia” (2016). 150 TIMELESS MOVIES includes reviews reprinted from Granger’s popular website, http://www.susangranger.com, as well as more than two dozen new reviews of English language classics and foreign language films to discover and an original introduction about what makes a movie memorable and timeless by Granger.

150-timeless-movies

Now, Susan takes on some curiosities with her cinematic eye …

John Valeri: What, in your opinion, makes a film timeless – and how does that definition reflect this book’s purpose?

Susan Granger: The idea came about when Robert Osborne asked me to be a Critic’s Choice guest on Turner Classic Movies, suggesting I introduce movies produced by my father (S. Sylvan Simon) and step-father (Armand Deutsch). When I re-visited these early Red Skelton and Abbott & Costello comedies, I was chagrined to discover that, because of the passage of time and advent of TV, they didn’t really hold up. On the other hand, “From Here to Eternity” and “Born Yesterday” do. Because of DVDs, Netflix and other streaming sources, we now have access to movies that once played for several weeks in theaters and then disappeared. My hope is that this book is a guide to some—but not all, of course—that are worth viewing, either for the first time or again.

JV: You are a well-respected film critic. How do you endeavor to balance objectivity with personal preference when reviewing – and what are the essential elements to a good critique?

SG: We all grew up, pleading, “Tell me a story…”

Movies are visual stories, so the story comes first. Then—how well did the filmmakers accomplish what they set out to do? I may not like horror stories but, if that’s the intent of the filmmaker, it’s my job to judge how well he/she did it. (Although, admittedly, if carnage gets too gory, I’m nearsighted, so I take off my glasses.) Insofar as the craft is concerned, a critic should consider the writing, directing, acting, etc.—all the Oscar categories, in fact.

JV: Your roots stretch back to Hollywood. In what ways does that upbringing afford you a unique insight?

susan-and-red-skelton-in-the-fuller-brush-man-1948
Susan with Red Skelton in ‘The Fuller Brush Man.’

SG: I was, indeed, fortunate that my father was not only a director at M.G.M. but also head of production at Columbia Pictures. We had a projection room at home. (TV was in its infancy and DVD’s had yet to be invented.) Every night, after I finished my homework, my father ran the ‘rushes’ (what had been filmed at the studio that day), along with two movies…and I was able to listen to him and his colleagues discussing what worked, what didn’t work.

JV: Have you ever found that this intimate acquaintance actually detracts from the magic of moviemaking?

SG: No, peeking behind the scenes, growing up on the M.G.M. lot didn’t detract from my enjoyment of movies—quite the opposite, it enhanced it.  I learned first-hand the collaboration that’s required to make a movie—and how vital each contributor is toward achieving the director’s vision.

susan-with-lassie-in-son-of-lassie-1945
Susan with Lassie in ‘Son of Lassie.’

To give you a timely example: in “Live By Night,” Ben Affleck drowns in melodramatic subplots, consistently choosing style-over-substance, resulting in a fumbling, un-focused film that’s fatally flawed—despite Robert Richardson’s sumptuous photography, Jess Conchor’s detailed production design and Jacqueline West’s glamorous costumes.

JV: What do you see as being the industry’s ongoing influence on society?

SG: Movies reflect our society. In the beginning, Hollywood’s movie-makers were dream merchants, reaffirming Horatio Alger’s rags-to-riches. The power of movies lies in their emotional force. Joseph Campbell asserted that our contemporary culture is so fragmented that we don’t have a collective myth anymore, so we looked to the movies. Then—with the rise of European cinema—reality gained momentum.

JV: How have the classics informed contemporary cinema?

SG: When we watch a movie, we can cross the transom of our own social universe and enter the lives of people we cannot know in our own neighborhood. The plot of a movie can capture America’s ethical or moral values of the moment. The first Oscar-winner was an anti-war movie: 1927’s “Wings.” Movies deliver knowledge and ideas—that’s why they’re so important. Actress Lillian Gish once called Hollywood “an emotional Detroit, where you buy a catharsis instead of a car.”

JV: Finally, what advice would you give to those looking for a forum to share their passion for film (or any of the arts) with others?

SG: To address your final question … I was fortunate to have a background in journalism, making the transition from ‘reporter’ to ‘anchorwoman’ to ‘movie critic’ at a time when Siskel & Ebert were becoming famous on TV. There was a vacancy—and I was able to fill it. Today, it’s much more difficult. For young people eager to express themselves, however, the Internet offers amazing opportunities, along with YouTube.  Write for a school newspaper/blog, covering every movie that’s released in your area. If you get bored, you know this is not for you. If you acquire a following, you’ve found your niche.

Thank you for expressing interest in 150 Timeless Movies and I hope our paths will cross in Connecticut one of these days.

***

With thanks to Susan Granger for her generosity of time and thought and to Jan Yager, Founder/CEO/Foreign Rights Director at Hannacroix Creek Books Inc., for facilitating this interview.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s